US man faces 13 years in prison for writing anti-bank messages in chalk

From Huffington Post: 

jeff olson california banks
Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old man from San Diego, Calif., will face jail time for charges stemming from anti-big bank messages he scrawled in water-soluble chalk outside Bank of America branches last year.

The San Diego Reader reported Tuesday that a judge had decided to prohibit Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.”

With that ruling, Olson must now stand trial on 13 counts of vandalism, charges that together carry a potential 13-year jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.

“Oh my gosh,” Olson said on his way out of court on Tuesday. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

In an interview with San Diego’s KGTV, Olson maintained that “free speech is protected” and said he “was encouraging folks to close their accounts at big Wall Street banks to transfer their money local nonprofit, community credit unions.”

The Reader first broke news of the case over the weekend, reporting that Olson and his partner had been active in the campaign to encourage people to move their money as early as 2011. During one protest outside of a Bank of America branch, they drew the ire of Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who accused them of running a business with their demonstration.

Olson later began showing his opposition with chalk drawings outside various Bank of America branches. Security camera footage from the banks apparently recorded his actions, and he eventually got a call from San Diego’s Gang Unit in August 2012, when he gave up the artistic protests. The Reader reports that Freeman aggressively pressured city attorneys to bring charges against Olson until they announced that they would do so in April.

Olson told KGTV that one of the branches had claimed it cost them $6,000 to clean up the water-soluble chalk writing.

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