Port Townsend free speech advocate's signs stolen
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Richard Erik Olson's signs were stolen over the weekend from their storage area in Port Townsend.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The free speech advocate who is fighting the city over its newly enacted sign code is in involuntary compliance now that his signs and materials have been stolen from a nearby lot.

Richard Erik Olson, 67, who goes by the name Arhata Osho, was cited three times for his array of signs being in violation of the ordinance which requires speech displays to fit in a space 4 feet wide by 6 feet long and 5 feet high.

Olson's display, which has been located in the same spot at Pope Marine Park for more than a year, extends 50-60 feet across the park's brickwork.

Olson said the theft included 42 signs, two easels, two carts, two canvases and eight tables with an approximate value of $2,000.

The signs were stored in the open air with no security in an outside lot at the Port Hudson Boat Shop, 313 Jackson St., according to owner Steve Chapin.

He had allowed Olson to place the signs in an area between the boats, but heard from Deputy Port Director Jim Pivarnik last month that the signs needed to find a new home.

Chapin then passed this on to Olson.

“I was told that I needed to move the signs, but said that I was under a lot of pressure right now and that it would take a few weeks to find another place,” Olson said.

“Parking and storage is pretty locked up downtown, so I hadn't found anything yet.”

Olson took down and stored his displays Saturday afternoon, and when he returned Sunday, they were gone.

He brought a few signs and a table from home and wrote some new messages, including “Free Speech Stolen!”

Chapin said that some items are left in that space and nothing has ever been stolen.

Olson previously stored his signs at the American Legion but was told late last year to find a new location.

About three weeks ago, Pivarnik that the signs did not have a maritime use and needed to find another home by the end of March.

Pivarnik said that after he delivered the message, the port took no action with regard to the signs' removal.

He said he was alerted to their presence on port property by a call from City Manager David Timmons, who did not request any action by the port.

Port Townsend police are investigating the incident but have no solid leads, according to Sgt. Troy Surber.

Olson said he plans to contact free-speech activists and sympathetic Hollywood personalities in an effort to support his cause.

He contacted the Seattle chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union last week but was told the group would not get involved.

At the time, ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said his organization will not get involved in the case because municipalities are within their rights to restrict the time, place and manner of speech, and such laws — like those in Port Townsend — do not interfere with free speech itself.

Olson is expected to appear at 1:15 p.m. April 14 in District Court at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 07. 2014 7:36PM
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