Friday, October 7, 2011

Spray Paint Artist Rejects Plea Deal

Boardwalk- Ocean City
Baltimore Sun Photo/ Eric Doerzbach

At Baltimore City District Court on North Avenue, Mark Chase, 29, of Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood, said prosecutors offered him a deal that would require him to perform community service after which they would drop the charge against him: one count of peddling without a license.

Instead, Chase pleaded not guilty Thursday, and prosecutor Patricia Deros told the judge that Chase had rejected the state's offer.

Details of the deal were not discussed in court, but Baltimore City State's Attorney spokesman Mark Cheshire said that it would have allowed Chase to avoid a conviction.

Still, Chase said the deal, in his view, would be the same thing as admitting he had committed the crime.

"I'm not going to plead guilty for doing something that's my constitutional right," said Chase, who paints science-fiction landscapes, mountains, waterfalls and American flags. "I'm not going to compromise my morals."

His trial date is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Baltimore police arrested Chase on Sept. 18 at the Inner Harbor when he attempted to set up an area where he could paint at Light and Pratt streets.

Video viewed by The Baltimore Sun shows police telling Chase that he could not paint there without a permit. The video shows Chase explaining that he had won a court injunction in U.S. District Court and had a right to paint where he was.

"It is my constitutional right to be here without prior approval," Chase said to the officer at one point.

"Your constitutional rights have nothing to do with the law," the officer said.

The arrest came two weeks after Chase temporarily won the right to paint on Ocean City's boardwalk. The injunction allows Chase to paint there for as long as his lawsuit continues against Ocean City for what he alleges are violations of the civil rights of street performers and artists by requiring permits and prohibiting them from selling their work in certain areas.

At the time of his arrest, Chase was not at McKeldin Square, a brick plaza at the southeast corner of Pratt and Light streets, which police have designated a "protest zone" where up to 25 people can gather without a permit to demonstrate. The officers said they would give him a citation, but because he refused to move, they arrested him, Chase said.

At the courthouse Thursday, Chase said he hoped to expand the area downtown where artists and protesters can demonstrate.

"We're going to try to open up the whole Inner Harbor," he said.


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