Charges to be dropped against protesters with sidewalk chalk

The District Attorney’s office will drop misdemeanor graffiti charges against five people who chalked up city sidewalks while protesting police misconduct.

Defense lawyer Robert Langford, who represented four of the five defendants, said the charges will be dismissed Friday.

“My clients are happy that the district attorney has changed his mind about proceeding on the case after receiving new information,” Langford said.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the new evidence showed that courthouse marshals had directed the protestors to chalk in a specific location outside the Regional Justice Center.

“There wasn’t expressed permission, but there was implied permission to use the chalk on the sidewalk outside the courthouse,” Wolfson said.

He spoke personally to an eyewitness who saw the exchange between marshals and the protestors.

“That was not something we were aware of before,” the district attorney said. “With this new information provided to us, we determined we couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Wolfson said his office needed to spend its resources on more important cases, such as violent crime, DUIs, murders and robberies.

Kelly Wayne Patterson, 44, Brian Ballentine, 31, Hailee Jewell, 18, and Catalino de la Cruz Dazo Jr., 20, faced multiple gross misdemeanor counts of placing graffiti or defacing property and conspiracy to commit placing graffiti. Prosecutors were also considering charging an unnamed 17-year-old juvenile on similar charges, but will deny the case.

The charges could have netted the adults a year jail sentence if convicted.

During two demonstrations in July, protesters used washable colored chalk to write critical statements of police on the sidewalks outside police headquarters and in front of the Regional Justice Center.

One statement read: “Not one single cop in Metro’s entire history has been charged after shooting someone. Even if that person was unarmed and/or innocent.”

Another was: “(Expletive) the police.”

Las Vegas police said it cost city workers $1,500 to cleanup the chalk using power washing equipment, but a report noted one chalk statement was washed away by some spilled coffee.

Meanwhile, Langford said he is still planning on pursuing a federal civil rights case against the police, who jailed two of the protestors for days. Ballentine spent two days in jail and Patterson spent four days in jail.

Langford said, “It tells you this was a malicious prosecution on the part of the police and underlines that this was never an arrest for graffiti, it was an arrest for criticizing Metro.”

Langford, who represented Ballentine, Patterson, de la Cruz Dazo, and the juvenile, added, “I always had faith that when the district attorney got the whole picture of what took place that day, he’d dismiss the case.”

Defense lawyers Josh Tomsheck and Craig Drummond represented Jewell in the case.

Tomsheck said, “We’ve always felt there was no violation of law. She should not have been arrested or charged.”

Organizers Nevada Cop Block and Sunset Activist Collective earlier this month held another protest outside the Metropolitan Police Department’s downtown headquarters.

Following the protest the demonstrators used tap water and brooms purchased from a dollar-store to clean up the chalk for less than $10.

The groups have been demonstrating against police brutality and officer-involved shootings in Las Vegas since the department came under scrutiny following a Review-Journal investigation and a federal Department of Justice review.

The investigations found the department lacked policies to prevent shootings and rarely held officers accountable for problematic shootings.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.