Trial under way in chalk vandalism case

Jeff Olson faces 13 counts of vandalism

SAN DIEGO - A trial continued Thursday for a North Park man charged with 13 counts of vandalism for using chalk to scribble anti-bank slogans on city sidewalks.

Jeff Olson faces 13 years in prison and a $13,000 fine if convicted.

On Thursday morning, Judge Howard Shore issued a gag order in the case, barring both sides from talking, but Olson spoke to 10News earlier this week about the case.

"I think this is really heavy handed. I hope that (City Attorney) Jan Goldsmith reviews the First Amendment of the Constitution and remembers that free speech is protected; just because you don't like what it says, doesn't mean you can't do it," Olson told 10News.

Shore prohibited Olson's attorney from using freedom of speech in his defense.

Prosecutors presented dozens of images captured on surveillance cameras from three Bank of America branches in Hillcrest and North Park from April to August of last year. Olson believes the charges against him are politically motivated, and he said he was simply trying to encourage people to use nonprofit credit unions instead of big corporations.

"If I had drawn 'Goldsmith for Mayor 2016,' that wouldn't have offended, we wouldn't be here, I wouldn't have been charged with vandalism for that; I'm only being charged with vandalism because Jan Goldsmith doesn't like what I wrote," said Olson.

Goldsmith issued a full-page memo regarding the case. In it, he said, "The defense is whipping up hysteria about the prospect of 13 years in custody. This is not a 13-year custody case. It is a standard graffiti case compounded by the fact that the defendant is alleged to have done it on 13 separate occasions … 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."

Darrell Freeman, Vice President of Corporate Security for Bank of America, spent several hours on the stand.

"It was your personal opinion that those protest words and websites were damaging to the bank's reputation and brand, correct?" asked defense attorney Tom Tosdal.

"Correct," replied Freeman.

Olson has accused Freeman of pressuring the city attorney to prosecute him.

The trial resumes Friday morning.

Mayor Bob Filner has reportedly called the case a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. He wants the city to discuss the issue in a closed session.

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