Four protesters in the Las Vegas Metropolitan area face gross misdemeanor charges that could land them up to a year in jail.
According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, their counts include graffiti or defacing property and conspiracy to commit placing graffiti. The 44-year-old Kelly Wayne Patterson, 31-year-old Brian Ballentine, 18-year-old Hailee Jewell, and 20 year-old Catalino de la Cruz Dazo Jr. used washable sidewalk chalk. Ironically, they were protesting harsh police crackdowns.
On July 13, the four protesters, affiliated with Nevada Cop Block and Sunset Activist Collective, reportedly scribbled critical statements of the police right outside the Department’s headquarters and in front of the Regional Justice Center.
If convicted, they could face a year in County jail, probation, or the suspension of their drivers’ licenses.
However, their case becomes another matter of interpreting the first amendment. According to the prosecution, the protesters drew profanity on the sidewalk, something the first amendment does not protect. One message reads, “F**k the Police.”
Moreover, according to the police reports, the protesters were warned their actions violated anti-graffiti laws before arresting two of the protesters. After only a few days, despite the warning and the police’s removal of the chalk with high-powered water hoses, the protesters again drew on the sidewalk with similarly profane messages.
However, on the side of the defense, similar charges could land a child in jail for playing hopscotch. Moreover, the police wanted to charge the city $1,550 for damage to artificial cement erosion due to the high-powered hoses used to remove the chalk. The same report included a reference to a woman who washed out the chalk by spilling her coffee. By elevating the cost of removal, the police can charge the protesters with gross misdemeanor instead of misdemeanor, which would increase their sentence if convicted.
A hearing is set for December.