12 year old arrested at war protest
(Daniel P. Finney) Twelve-year-old war protester Frankie Hughes was arrested late Wednesday for trespassing after she allegedly refused to leave U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s Des Moines office.
On Thursday morning, the girl’s mother – who was standing outside Harkin’s office when Frankie was taken into custody – was ticketed for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“How crazy,” said Frankie, who learned after school that her mother had been charged. “She didn’t contribute to anything. I did what was in my heart. No one suggested I do what I did.”
The charge against Renee Lynn Espeland, 49, of Des Moines is a simple misdemeanor. Police say Espeland “knowingly encouraged and contributed to her daughter’s arrest.”
The situation is unusual, police and a Drake University law professor agreed.
Des Moines Police Sgt. David Murillo said: “I understand and fully appreciate a person’s constitutional right to free speech. However, this was a case of bringing a child into a criminal arena.”
Charging the girl’s mother in a protest is an unusual move, said Sally Frank, the Drake professor.
“I think they are trying to put a scare into the peace movement,” Frank said of police.
Frank said she will probably defend the protesters who were charged.
“There is a difference between encouraging a child to break the law and encouraging thought and care for other people,” she said. “When you think of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, you think of a parent allowing their children to get involved in drugs, not a peaceful protest.”
The incident occurred late Wednesday afternoon at the Federal Building, 210 Walnut St. Police were called there because Christine Gaunt, 53, of Grinnell allegedly refused to leave after Harkin’s office had closed for the day.
Federal security officers told police that Gaunt was on the floor in Harkin’s office. When police went to the office, they also found Frankie sitting in a chair and refusing to leave. Espeland was standing outside the office.
Espeland was told that if Frankie didn’t leave the office, she would be arrested for criminal trespass, according to the police report. Espeland allegedly told police she wasn’t going to tell Frankie to leave, and “felt it was important for her daughter to be arrested for the cause.”
Espeland disputes that part of the police report.
Frankie and Gaunt were arrested for allegedly trespassing.
Frankie, a sixth-grader at Callanan Middle School, will be referred to Polk County Juvenile Court at a later date on a charge of trespassing.
Espeland goes to court on the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor on April 16.
“I will be pleading not guilty,” Espeland said. “It was an act of conscience. I didn’t tell Frankie to do this. I went with her. To be civically involved, it was impossible for me to intervene at that point.”
Asked how her classmates reacted to learning she had been arrested during a war protest, the 12-year-old said, “Everyone was too focused on my new haircut. We really didn’t get around to it.”
Within an hour of being ticketed on Thursday, Espeland was at Nollen Plaza, holding a war protest sign and handing out leaflets demanding an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.