Powder puff! Chalk artist sues city for $1M

The Brooklyn Paper

A beloved form of child’s play is about to head to an adult court.

Artist Ellis Gallagher, who has been arrested three times by the NYPD for drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, is now suing the city for $1 million to punish cops for imprisoning him for pursuing a legal art form.

It’s gotten so bad that Gallagher says he’s moved to Williamsburg from Cobble Hill “because of so much harassment from the 84th and 76th precincts.”

Gallagher was first arrested in October, 2007 — ironically after being quoted in a Brooklyn Paper story about a 6-year-old girl who had become Public Enemy Number 1 after getting a city warning for scribbling with chalk on her sidewalk.

Gallagher had another rodeo with the po-po last Sept. 2 — in fact, he was collared twice on that day for chalk “graffiti” on Flatbush Avenue between Vanderbilt and Clinton avenues. Those arrests triggered the lawsuit.

All three summonses have been thrown out, but he faced a year of repeated hearings “to defend himself against the unlawful prosecution initiated by [the NYPD],” court documents state.

City law states that sidewalk chalk scribbles can be deemed “graffiti,” but only if they are “not consented to by the owner of the commercial building or residential building.” In the case of city property, Gallagher’s attorney says that the chalk perp must have an “intent to damage” the property — and as we all know, even a drizzle can wash away chalk.

If $1 million seems like a lot of scratch over some sidewalk marks, lawyers think otherwise. Sometimes, big payouts are necessary to force officials to change the way they do business.

“If you were to sue for $5,000, it would have no effect on future illegal summonses,” said Gallagher’s lawyer, Paul Hale. “The only way to stop the city’s blatant and illegal activity is by going for the pocketbook.”

And he ought to know — Hale is also defending unicycle-rider Kyle Peterson, who is suing the city for $3 million because cops keep giving him tickets for riding “illegally” on the sidewalk, when we all know that it’s legal.

Reader Feedback

Dumbledore from Clinton Hill says:
"Gallagher had another rodeo with the po-po last Sept. 2 — in fact, he was collared twice on that day for chalk “graffiti” on Flatbush Avenue between Vanderbilt and Clinton avenues. Those arrests triggered the lawsuit."

Is this artwork in an alternate universe? I hope his suit doesn't claim this address, since it doesn't exist. Clinton, Vanderbilt and Clinton Aves. are parallel to one another and can't interset. Possibly he meant Fulton St.?
Nov. 26, 2010, 8:52 am
ari says:
dumbledore, you have a lot of time on your hands.

who cares?
Nov. 26, 2010, 11:46 am
k from gp says:
His artwork looks pretty cool to me:

http://cwoca.com/uncategorized/shadow-art-ellis-gallagher-video/

I see people doing chalk artwork in the village. What's up brooklyn?
Nov. 26, 2010, 11:58 am
anon says:
This is why it stinks to live in uptight, conservative neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens. Why not live in Greenwich if the people who keep calling the cops about this man don't like classic NYC street art? The NYPD would not bother this person if residents weren't making a stink about it. That's who this article and lawsuit should target, not just the cops.
Nov. 26, 2010, 1:47 pm
Smellis P. from Carroll Gardens says:
Ellis G. is a smug ——. Abusive, arrogant and a jerk. Let him rot.
Nov. 26, 2010, 9:47 pm
Sandy Lyle from Flatbush, Vanderbilt and Clinton says:


The guy riding his unicycle on the sidewalk and the unauthorized chalk shadow tracer should both be issued summons or locked up. How is this harassment?
Stop tying up the courts with frivolous lawsuits and get a job.
Nov. 27, 2010, 12:27 am
unicycle from legal says:
I didn't know riding a unicycle on the sidewalk was legal. Seems potentially dangerous to pedestrians.
Nov. 27, 2010, 1:51 am
Michael Alan from all city says:
Sue the cops, they need to stop aresting people for stupid ——, the world has many problems, and if they were on the prowl for real crime, things would be better....
Nov. 27, 2010, 3:03 am
EricGG from the same neighborhood says:
riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal (for adults); why wouldn't riding a unicycle be equally illegal?
Nov. 27, 2010, 3:10 pm
Kat from Greenpoint says:
@Sandy Lyle in reference to your comment "get a job", well, Ellis has a job. He is an artist and that is how he makes his living. Annie Leibovitz is an artist as well, a photographer. Should she "get a job" too?
Nov. 27, 2010, 9:50 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
If it's apparent that the summons are continously dismissed, and the police continue, they are doing a bad job. I hope he wins.
Nov. 28, 2010, 10:32 am
Sho from Williamsburg says:
Love the infantile potty humor, "Smellis P." You really made a valid and worthwhile point here: you obviously don't know Ellis, but may be totally obsessed with him. Very creepy.
Nov. 28, 2010, 1:20 pm
Sho from Williamsburg says:
Love the infantile potty humor, "Smellis P." You really made a valid and worthwhile point here: you obviously don't know Ellis, but may be totally obsessed with him. Very creepy.
Nov. 28, 2010, 1:20 pm
myrtle mer from bed stuy says:
Must be some narrow minded people that have a problem with whimsical temporary art that makes people smile.
Nov. 28, 2010, 3:16 pm
Sandy Lyle from Flatbush, Vanderbilt and Clinton says:


@Kat, I'm not sure where your going with this. Annie Leibovitz has been gainfully employed for most of her career (the past 40 years). In her own words "you can work for magazines and still do your own personal work."
Nov. 29, 2010, 11:44 am
AJ from Bay Ridge says:
"Sometimes, big payouts are necessary to force officials to change the way they do business."
- - -
No, they're necessary to provide lawyers with meaningful contingency fees. (And naturally, plaintiffs are never interested in money.)
Nov. 29, 2010, 4:07 pm

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