Jeff Olson Faces 13 Years in Jail for Writing Anti-Bank Messages in Chalk

| by Michael Allen
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Jeff Olson, a man who is being prosecuted for writing anti-bank messages on sidewalks in water-soluble chalk last year, is facing a 13-year jail sentence.

Olson could also be fined up to $13,000 because of the anti-bank slogans that were drawn on a sidewalk outside of three San Diego branches of Bank of America.

He is on trial for on 13 counts of vandalism.

According to the San Diego Reader, Judge Howard Shore ruled that Olson's attorney Tom Tosdal is banned from "mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct or political speech during the trial.”

"I've never heard that before, that a court can prohibit an argument of First Amendment rights," Tosdal said, who is working for free to defend Olson.

Olson joined the Occupy Wall Street movement in October 2011. That same year he appeared outside of a Bank of America branch in San Diego carrying a homemade sign promoting "National Bank Transfer Day," in which bank customers were encouraged to lawfully move their accounts out of large corporate banks and into smaller local banks and not-for-profit credit unions.

In February 2012, Olsen bought some chalk at a local pharmacy, reported the San Diego Reader.

"I thought my time would be better spent at the banks, trying to convince people to ditch these banks for local credit unions," Olsen told the San Diego Reader. "I believed that was the best way to hold the executives and the corporations accountable for bringing this country to the brink of collapse."

From February to August 2012, Olson visited the same Bank of America branch a few days per week and wrote anti-bank slogans on the sidewalk such as "Stop big banks" and "Stop"

The San Diego Reader obtained public records showing that Darrell Freeman, the vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, pressured San Diego’s Police Gang Unit and San Diego Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard to prosecute Olsen for months.

"I wanted to let you know that we will be filing 13 counts of vandalism as a result of the incidents you reported," Hazard told Freeman on April 15.

UPDATE: Health care activist A.J. Marin was arrested in Pennsylvania this week for writing on the sidewalk in chalk: “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.”

Source: San Diego Reader