SAN DIEGO - Activists are standing behind a North Park man charged with 13 counts of vandalism for using chalk to scribble anti-bank slogans on city sidewalks. Dozens gathered Saturday outside the Hall of Justice to protest the prosecution of Jeff Olson.
Protestor Kristoffer Newsom told 10News,"(My son) said, 'Daddy, why are you mad?' And I said I was upset because a man got in trouble, got arrested for writing on a sidewalk with chalk and he said, 'What, why? And I said apparently it's illegal."
Police allowed protesters designated space around the Hall of Justice to write messages of free speech on the ground with chalk.
"It's ridiculous that something like this is considered a weapon," said a protester named Megan as she held up a piece of chalk. "I would think it's believable if he was throwing it at people, but he was writing on cement with it."
Olson is charged with 13 misdemeanor vandalism counts involving protest messages in sidewalk chalk in front of three Bank of America branches in San Diego. He faces 13 years in prison and a $13,000 fine if convicted.
The case, which has received national attention, pits the rights of someone to protest in public against repeated impositions on bank personnel.
Judge Howard Shore issued a gag order in the case, barring both sides from talking. Shore also prohibited Olson's attorney from using freedom of speech in his defense.
Closing arguments were made Friday and jurors are currently deliberating the case.
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith issued a statement saying in part, "We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be. We don't decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks."