Rock chalking in City Park leads to ticket – and protest

Posted at 12:21 AM, Mar 24, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-24 00:21:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - The dustup over a citation for weekend rock-chalking led to a sidewalk-chalking  protest at Richmond police headquarters Friday afternoon.

No one was charged for writing chalk messages on the sidewalk at 200 W. Grace Street.

But Susan Mortensen said she was ticketed Sunday when her 4-year-old daughter drew on one of the rocks on Belle Isle, which sits in the middle of the granite-strewn James River in Richmond.

“My daughter was drawing some rectangles, some kind of door to a magic land with chalk,” Mortensen said during the artistic protest. “And the officer approached me and asked if that was my chalk. I said, yes. And he said, ‘you’re destroying property. I’m going to have to write you a ticket.’ And I asked him why, I’m not destroying anything. And he said ‘I’m also banning you from the city parks . . . my ticket’s going to be about $325.”

The protest left the sidewalk in front of headquarters colored with childlike drawings and messages like, “Can’t Stop Freedom” and “Free 2 Chalk.”

“So today we’re just here to politely and, with a little fun, tell the police we don’t appreciate them harassing people like that - over chalk,” said protester Meg McLain.

They’re incredulous that anyone would think that chalk on river rocks amounts to destruction of property.

You can’t chalk  up this case to some overzealous, rookie  cop. Stacy Rogers is a respected veteran, the president of the Richmond Coalition of Police. In September, he and his partner were the bicycle cops who caught the guy who broke out of jail to rob the same bank he was jailed for robbing previously.

A 6-foot-8-inch kayaker, Rogers has gotten positive reviews since he was given the job of mountain biking through the parks to fight crime.

And he has a history with Susan Mortensen.

Two years ago he busted her for destruction of property for painting on the rocks on Belle Island. She was convicted, court records show. (Rogers did not respond to a request to share his version of Sunday’s incident.)

Susan Mortensen said the previous incident doesn’t entitle the officer to write her up for her daughter’s chalking, and to ban her (and, in essence, her daughter, too) from the city parks.

“My daughter was very scared,” she said. “I told her policemen are here to protect us. And now she thinks she can’t use chalk any more.”

Mortensen said she plans to fight the ticket in court.