Free speech activist found guilty

By Robin Dudley of the Leader
Posted 12/9/14

Free-speech activist Arhata Osho, aka Erik Olson, is set to be sentenced today, Dec. 10, for violating the City of Port Townsend's sidewalk ordinances earlier this year.

Osho was found guilty Dec. …

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Free speech activist found guilty

Posted

Free-speech activist Arhata Osho, aka Erik Olson, is set to be sentenced today, Dec. 10, for violating the City of Port Townsend's sidewalk ordinances earlier this year.

Osho was found guilty Dec. 4 by District Court Judge Jill Landes of violating the ordinances on March 27, March 31 and June 15, 2014.

Sentencing was put off because Osho's attorney, Bret Roberts, disputes Osho being charged with three counts for his free-speech display violations on March 31.

"He was charged with multiple individual offenses for what amounted to, in my opinion, one violation of the statute," Roberts told the Leader on Dec. 5.

Each count could have a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, so "The City could put him in jail for 270 or 360 days," Roberts said, for violating the ordinance with his display of signs on that one day.

City of PT prosecuting attorney Jo Vanderlee provided more than 100 exhibits in the case against Osho and brought five witnesses to the stand as she laid out the nature of Osho's violations. All of the witnesses are members of the Port Townsend Police Department.

POLITICAL MESSAGE

Osho's is a familiar face downtown. On most days, he sets up a display of white boards filled with handwritten political messages at Pope Marine Park, across Water Street from City Hall, and chats with passers-by.

The whiteboards are filled with statements such as "Morons of Utah," "PT Nazi Security," "Soul Mates," "Religion Myths," "Pussy Power," "Sheeple (96 percent of U)," "Vote Against Magic Underwear," "Fat?," "Gay Marriage," "Abortions go to Heaven" and "Knuckleheaded Females."

The first witness, PTPD Sergeant Troy Surber, answered prosecutor Vanderlee's questions about having given Osho a verbal warning and a $100 infraction ticket on March 27.

The next witness, PTPD Chief Conner Daily, said Osho had not asked for a permit for his free-speech activities.

PTPD Officer Sherry Erickson described being asked by then-City Attorney John Watts to photograph Osho's display from the third-floor window of City Hall on March 31 and issuing two criminal citations.

The next witness, Officer Jeremy Vergin, confirmed giving Osho a citation on June 18. Vergin noted that while he talked to Osho about the violation, Osho moved his signs to take up even more space.

"[Osho] told me he's a canary in the coal mine of the freedom of speech movement," Vergin said. "He was polite ... it was very obvious he was taking a stand against the municipal code."

The fifth and last witness called by the City was Jerry Spieckerman, currently a code enforcement officer for PTPD. Spieckerman was a volunteer with PTPD in June, when Osho was given his third misdemeanor citation.

After a short recess, Landes ruled that Osho was guilty of violating the two area rules, 7658 (the sidewalk intersection rule) and 7657 (the area rule).

In his closing arguments, Roberts argued that no testimony was heard about signs blowing or falling down, or from any pedestrians whose course was obstructed by the signs, or complaining of harassment.

"How is that even relevant?" Landes said.

Roberts cut short his closing arguments.

ORDINANCE ON SPEECH

On March 3, 2014, the PT City Council passed an ordinance limiting the size of "free speech activities" in public space to 6 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. A second ordinance required permits for free speech displays. The ordinance took effect March 17.

Osho received a $100 infraction on March 27 and a misdemeanor criminal citation on March 31, both for violations of the new sidewalk regulations, which he suggested are targeted at his displays.

On April 6, Osho discovered that 42 of of his signs, eight tables and two dollies had been stolen from an outside lot at Point Hudson.

Osho continued to display his remaining signs, including a prominent one stating "Free Speech Stolen."

On Thursday afternoon, Dec. 4, Osho was again downtown with his display of signs at Pope Marine Park.

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