UPDATE: Street Chalk Painter To Have His Day in Court

One local man faces a $500 fine—and possibly jail time—for marking sidewalks in Olde Towne with spray chalk. He goes to court this morning.

UPDATE: David Abraham, the man who used spray chalk to advertise his business on the sidewalks of Olde Towne earlier this month, will have his day in court this morning.

At 8:30 Abraham will go before a District Court judge in Rockville to argue his case.

He has hired a lawyer to help him, he said.

Abraham faces a $500 fine—or possibly up to 60 days in jail—after City police wrote him a citation for willfully defacing city property on June 12.

He says he is fighting the charge on principal, and in the hopes that even if he loses, the city will clarify its code to make it clear that kids writing in chalk on the sidewalk won't get written $500 citations.

Stay tuned to Patch for an update on the hearing.

ORIGINAL STORY: If you had seen 31-year-old David Abraham around 3 a.m. Sunday, spray can in hand, walking the sidewalks in Olde Towne, you might have thought he was up to no good.

But several city and county police officers drove leisurely by as the entrepreneur used spray chalk and a stencil to advertise his new business.

The next day, however, city police tracked him down and told him he had to erase all the markings or pay a $500 fine—and possibly spend time in jail.

Abraham said the same law would put any kid drawing with sidewalk chalk in jeopardy of getting an expensive citation.

"It's the principle," he said. "That's what I'm fighting, really, it's the principle."

The markings were advertising a daily deal website, OfertasLocal.com, similar to Groupon or Living Social, but aimed at the local Latino community.

But City Police spokesman Officer Dan Lane said there is a difference, and it's called "malicious destruction of property."

"It's not the same," he said. "It's against the law, and this guy's an adult."

Despite the fact that Abraham used Rust-Oleum spray chalk that will wash off after a few rains, he was charged with violating city code Sect. 15-12, or willfully defacing city property.

On Monday morning, officers saw the markings and tracked Abraham down. They left a message at his house saying he had to erase the markings or face a citation.

When he got home and saw the message, he went to the police station to talk about the issue, he said. But when he tried to explain that his ads were only chalk and would wash off, he said the officer insisted on writing him a citation.

He says he will fight the citation, and has a court date set for June 30 at the District Courthouse in Rockville.

He has now started an online petition called "Chalk on a sidewalk should not be a crime."

As of 8:15 p.m. on June 16, the petition had 55 signatures.

"[I]f the city find me guilty they are basically saying that any person child or adult can be charged for using chalk on the sidewalk. [T]hey are saying it is graffiti and vandalism," he says in the introduction of the petition.

"Please sign the petition so that [I] can show the judge that if chalk is not allowed they must be clear of the city code and not find me guilty because [I'm] not a child yet the use of chalk on sidewalks is a common everyday activity."

Councilman Ryan Speigel, a practicing attorney, said he has had some experience with First Amendment cases. And even though he tends to lean toward freedom of expression, he thinks Abraham has clearly gone too far.

"There are reasonable limits, and the law is pretty clear," he said. "You can't claim graffiti is freedom of expression."

The difference between a child writing on a public sidewalk with chalk and what Abraham is "nothing, essentially."

But, he's "never seen a kid writing on a public sidewalk."

There is no problem if a kid writes on a private driveway or sidewalk, he added.

"Obviously code enforcement officers have a lot of discretion," he said, adding they likely wouldn't go around citing kids anyway.

"I just think there need to be reasonable limits."

Using spray chalk for advertising is becoming a fairly common practice in some larger municipal areas, including New York.

Bravo TV used the technique, Audi advertised its clean diesel on the sidewalks of Los Angeles, and Minnesota—apparently—used sidewalk spray chalk to advertise the State Lottery.

American University allows the use of sidewalk chalk by student organizations to advertise on campus, but not spray chalk.

Street Advertising Services, which is based in the United Kingdom, offers sidewalk chalk advertising custom tailored to each client, and Massive Media in New York has a flashing banner on their chalk advertising page that says "Chalking is NOT a Crime."

And in 2006, Verizon was fined more than $1,000 by the District of Columbia for using chalked-on stencils to advertise their Yellow Pages.

Even if the police had not charged Abraham with malicious destruction of property, he still may have gotten in trouble.

Kevin Roman, the city's director of neighborhood services, said Abraham could have been cited under the city's sign ordinance.

"That said, it is currently not an acceptable form of advertising per the city code," he added in an email.

Tanya June 17, 2011 at 01:11 PM
he def got his name out now....
Sharon June 17, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Can we cite utilities e.g. COMCAST & PEPCO for the same thing. Worse though is fact it isn't chalk; it's PAINT!!!! They send contractors into our community with neon bright paint. I realize they have to mark areas where there exists underground wiring or pipes. But they need to use something that does indeed wash away. Our sidewalks (that were patchworked repaired a number of years ago...in need of major) resemble no more than obnoxious graffiti. And some, if not most areas, have been there through "rain, sleet and hale" and scorching sun & are as 'bright and distracting and detracting' today as the day contractors went overboard. I even watched contractor spray an area involving common ground length of 7 townhomes) only to ask him 'why'. His response was it was leading to Verizon box along our corridor. Had to inform contractor that box had not been utilized in 'decades'. Response from contractor was basically 'oops'. Ooops, toooooooooooooooo late. Graffiti damage already rendered. I have attempted to find resolve by involving not only utility companies but the County Council & my very own HOA (who apparently mandates I pay HOA fees to have anyone, everyone come in & deface the environment in which I reside). No one seems to want to get involved. Hey, not their neighborhood taking on 'more of a ghetto appearance', right?!!!!
David Abraham June 17, 2011 at 03:30 PM
At no point did I claim it was freedom of speech and the citys own counsel members and an active lawyer stated...The difference between a child writing on a public sidewalk with chalk and what Abraham is "nothing, essentially." I agree with mr.Speigel on "reasonable limits" so i plan to attend a city meeting to address this to the city. it makes no sense to charge chalk as a criminal offense with up to 60days in jail.
David Abraham June 17, 2011 at 03:35 PM
my point exactly Sharon, i used chalk which would wash away. and there is a few bright yellow marks in front of where i live as well...
Sharon June 17, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Don't 'we' know by now, David, there is no 'balanced justice'. Seems to depend on the 'system's (or citing officer's) MOOD SWING' What's good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander. Did you hear on the news last night the 'big money' residents are making charging for parking even directly on their front manicured lawns (it's all about the money) for those attending golf tournament? Yet, some children who had a lemonade stand with (meager) profits going to charitable organization (cancer research) were cited and fined and 'forced' to shut down their stand. What in God's name have we come to when we run kids out of a non-profitable lemonade stand. And worse!!!! What message are we sending those children who could be doing far worse...going around neighborhood getting into trouble...bullying other kids, destroying property, etc! Here these children were doing something CONSTRUCTIVE and out of the kindness and generosity of their hearts!!!!
Sharon June 17, 2011 at 04:24 PM
And guess it was easier to 'expel' you than to go after e.g. the influx of panhandlers...many of whom ARE NOT DISABLED or UNEMPLOYED. {I have overheard a couple of them talk and laugh about how their panhandling is a 'lucrative business'. Even overheard one who is a Village regular state "not going well today. Think I will go HOME, prop my feet up, have a beer and watch the game". Same man holding up damn HOMELESS SIGN!} But who are creating e.g. a safety issue throughout the County. Bottom line.... We have far bigger, more critical issues in Montgomery County than concentrating time, effort and COURT EXPENSE for the 'less trivial' issues that affect far fewer of our County residents. Hey, your tax payers money at work. LOL!
David Abraham June 17, 2011 at 04:29 PM
here is a link to the Petition http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/chalknotacrime/signatures
David Abraham June 17, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Thanks sharon for your support, here is a link to the petition, idont know how far it will go but its worth a shot and at least brings this to the attention of people http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/chalknotacrime/signatures
Sharon June 17, 2011 at 04:39 PM
I do have a question though, David. Why did you choose 3 in the morning to display 'chalk advertising' rather than in the 'light of day'? How seems a big odd! Did you anticipate a 'problem' with what you were doing?
David Abraham June 17, 2011 at 04:58 PM
I was hanging out at one of the local spots and it was a nice night when it closed so figured why not take advantage of the moment. I work daily 9:30-5:30 and then teach martial arts to kids 6-10pm so i dont really have free time during the day.
Enough Already June 17, 2011 at 10:18 PM
We live on N Summit where David defaced our sidewalk in several places. It's a mess, and, after several rains, is no less vivid than when originally sprayed. We deal with enough problems from surrounding apartment complexes with constant litter, crime, etc here. It was wonderful to wake up early Sunday to walk our dog and find the mess. But let's break out the violins for David's sob story and ensuing free PR while we add another mess to try and scrub away in our community. Thanks for your selfish bs, you bum. It is concerning that some alcohol fueled spray painting wasn't noticed by police or anyone else while it occurred. If the city doesn't follow through on this, it's ridiculous.
Sharon June 17, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Already Enough, had reread article earlier today & after realizing time that 'spray job' was done I did find it questionable & was even contemplating inquiring as to whether David was inebriated at the time. Decided to just 'let this topic go' while at same time deciding not to sign any petition since I have not seen firsthand this 'chalk' David states 'simply washes away'. And, since you mentioned North Summit, I can now fully understand your despair as well 'cause I am quite familiar with that area & sympathize with fact that one more 'issues' has been added on your plate. If police were traveling around at that hour, don't understand why they initially passed 'activity' by waiting till next morning to 'handle' when violation could have been halted, nipped in the bud then and there. Lot of questions here after digesting article a 2nd time.
Stop TheSilliness June 18, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Man up, pay the fine, help clean the sidewalks on N Summit, and move on. The fact that a silly online petition has been undertaken is the result of a guilty conscience to try and justify and grow support for a stupid choice. This isn't a 4 year old drawing a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk with crayola chalk, it's an adult making a conscious decision to deface public property for personal gain. If nothing comes of this where does it end? Can any website be sprayed on the sidewalk as long as it's in alleged "chalk". How about f___you.com? Does anyone find this problematic? It sets a bad precedent that anything goes in Olde Towne. There's enough lawlessness.
Doug Tallman June 18, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Dear Enough Already -- You signed in on what looks to be a false email address so I can't address you privately. Just wanted to say that we frown on name-calling at Patch, and "bum" is not the kind of language we condone. Since you used a false email address, I can't ask you to rephrase your comment. To others on this thread, we encourage you to participate in this discussion, but let's keep it respectful. Thanks doug
David Abraham June 19, 2011 at 03:13 AM
you seem to miss the point....if you have a child and they draw on the sidewalk. anyone can call in and make a complaint in which the offers should right you a parent a citation for $500/60days in jail which will go on as a criminal offense. and the offer was made to wash it off but the officer still wrote the citation.
David Abraham June 19, 2011 at 03:16 AM
I didn't Finnish....the petition was to see what others thought I in no way defaced public property anymore then verizon comes and sprays the sidewalk with real paint. I use a common marketing method used by major companies and was given a citation which makes no sense. I will actually be addressing the city council about the code so that the punishment matches up with the action.
Mizer Yuam June 21, 2011 at 06:42 PM
To Ana Cabrera: I did not bother reading your comment--too hard to read. You do NOT capitalize every word in a sentence. Go back to school.
Mizer Yuam June 21, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Lawlessness in Olde Towne: from all the ILLEGALS.
Mizer Yuam June 21, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Panhandler male who has blonde hair and uses a crutch, making it appear he has a lifeless leg, is a FAKE ! He lives in the woods behind the Red Roof Inn across from Burger King on Shady Grove Road and he's been spotted several times with the crutch on the ground as he stands and walks perfectly.
Ana Cabrera June 27, 2011 at 07:47 AM
To Mizer Yuam: I am in school im in middle school im becoming a 7 grader
Jeffrey J. Nugent June 29, 2011 at 02:33 AM
This man doesn't even live in Gaithersburg. Let's see if he'd like this done to his neighborhood. Gaithersburg, at least in my neighborhood, is full if hardworking homeowners who want to create a nice, and clean atmosphere to raise families in. We don't need our investments potentially hurt because some idiot, who isn't even a resident, wants to advertise his stupid business idea by junking up our neighborhood.
Take A Stand Against Street Punks June 30, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Prison is right where he belongs. He must have known what he was doing was wrong or he wouldn't have been doing it at 3 am. Who but a perpetrator carries around spray chalk and stencils while they're supposedly just hanging around enjoying the nice evening? To claim that he is no different from children playing hopscotch is sickening. This guy thinks he is above the law and the rest of us. What if everyone were to run around spraying public property with advertisements or other personally gratifying messages? Chaos. That's why we have laws. This guy is demonstrating with his own actions and words that the only way he will learn his lesson is through the criminal justice system. Rot in jail, dude. And, if you really stand behind your idiotic position, why don't you send us all YOUR ADDRESS so that we can spray chalk all over YOUR PROPERTY?
David Abraham July 01, 2011 at 02:28 PM
actually I do
David Abraham July 01, 2011 at 02:40 PM
let look at some facts. I had been out in the area and since it was a nice evening 1)decide to do the stencil that sat night becuase i was out and it happen to be a nice night. The stencil and chalk was in my car. 2)The statement about children you need to understand refers to the City code. As the code states it can be applied to what children do as well and what electric, construction and other utility services companies do as well. I myself said we dont want the city as a billboard but this type of marketing is not consider illegal because it is not permanent and it is a cops discretion to write a citation. to be written up doesn't not mean the officer is correct. 3) I was actually invited by the city to attend a city counsel meeting since the action and city code do not match up. so that the counsel may look into a revision of the code. Similar to what other state, city, university codes with this state which exclude chalk and non permanent methods. 4) My name is Public not hiding behind a comment wall, and t spray the property would actually make the code applicable since it is private property. since the street is a public space its different. 5) Just for extra information, after the media wrote about this. I was solicited by a marketing company that offers this as a service
David Abraham July 02, 2012 at 02:58 PM
here you go..guys so i'm not the only one http://wtvr.com/2012/03/23/moms-protest-with-chalk-outside-rpd-headquarters/


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