A San Diego man could be found guilty of a series of misdemeanor charges that would land him in jail for as many as 13 years, all for writing down his opinions on a public sidewalk in children's chalk.
Jeff Olson, 40, took his displeasure with the Federal bailout of large banks like Bank of America to the streets when he began chalking slogans like "No Thanks, Big Banks" and "Shame on Bank of America" outside of three separate Bank of America branches in San Diego.
But after a bank security manager called the city repeatedly to complain about Olson's washable messages, the city decided to charge him with 13 counts of vandalism, a misdemeanor. If found guilty however, each count could include a $1,000 fine as well as a year in prison.
Olson defended his speech to the local CBS station: "Always on city sidewalks, washable chalk, never crude messages, never vulgar, clearly topical."
While free speech is protected by the First Amendment, the judge for the case has barred the amendment being used as a defense by Olson, and says that the trial will only be about whether Olson is guilty of vandalism or not.
The mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, sent a message to the city council president asking him to help close the case, calling it a waste of taxpayer money.
"This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a City sidewalk," the mayor said.
Concerned with media coverage surrounding Olson's trail, the judge, Howard Shore, further curtailed Olson's First Ammendment rights, and issued a gag order Thursday prohibiting him speaking to the media. Shore then went on to dismiss the notion that Olson would find himself with any serious jail time because of the chalk protest.