Amy Larson readily admits writing “9/11 Truth” and “9/11 Truth Now” in chalk on the First Street sidewalk over Napa Creek.
“I just want people to think for themselves,” said Larson, 29. “I believe we’ve lost a lot of civil liberties since the 9/11 attacks. I’m really concerned about that.
“This is political free speech,” added Larson, who says the investigation into the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. should be reopened.
Her chalk writing — which occurred Sept. 11, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks — got Larson arrested on suspicion of vandalism.
A self-described political activist who had never been arrested, Larson said she was returning from the farmers market after buying fruits and vegetables when she started writing the statements on the sidewalk. A police officer stopped to talk to her, then left, she said.
“I was never told not to chalk the sidewalk,” said Larson, who is married and works in a wine cellar.
Five to 10 minutes later, the officer returned with her boss in an SUV, Larson said. She was first detained, then arrested for investigation of felony vandalism and booked at the Napa County jail.
According to a police report filed in court, a city employee said Larson’s chalk writing matched other chalk markings he had been removing all over town.
Larson, who strongly denies having chalked at other locations, spent about 30 hours in custody before being released on her own recognizance. She could have gotten out sooner, but she did not want to spend money for her $10,000 bail, she said.
Her fellow inmates were nice, she said, adding they had never met anyone who had been arrested for chalking. Her husband, Adam, was “pretty shocked,” she said.
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Larson still can’t believe that she was put behind bars as a “vandalist” for making a political commentary — in chalk. “That’s just not true,” she said.
Instead of a felony, Larson was charged with misdemeanor vandalism on Sept. 13, according to court documents. A hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Napa County Superior Court.
Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said police had few options but to arrest Larson after she failed to cooperate with officers. She gave her name and that’s it, he said.
Troendly said the city had reports of 40 other locations with similar graffiti. It does not matter whether the messages are written in chalk or spray paint, he said. “Graffiti is graffiti.”
Lee Philipson, Napa County’s assistant district attorney, said Larson was charged with a misdemeanor because of her lack of a criminal record. It took “hundreds of dollars in time and materials by the city to clean it up,” he insisted.
“It would not have just washed away, and it was found in several places according to the reports,” he said.
The exact number of public places chalked in Napa recently could not be obtained from Napa’s Public Works Department. “I don’t have the numbers of chalking incidents other than there have been a lot lately,” said Dave Tripp, a street supervisor for the city of Napa.
The chalkings, which have to be power-washed, are logged as graffiti, he said.
The city receives a lot of complaints about chalk graffiti from citizens who use the sidewalks and bike paths, Tripp said.