Shauna Johnson of Castle Pines, Colorado is outraged over the Trump administration’s decision to take children away from migrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — and now she faces possible jail time for expressing her anger in a chalk message to an elected official.
In early June, Johnson visited her local congressman’s office to express concern about how U.S. officials are treating migrant kids separated from their families, among other things. After talking with a member of Republican Rep. Ken Buck’s staff at his Castle Rock office, she and her two children left.
Outside the building, one of her kids dropped a bag with chalk in it on the sidewalk and Johnson wrote “Stop putting kids in cages.”
Then, according to Rep. Ken Buck’s office, the building’s manager — not a member of Buck’s staff — contacted law enforcement about the chalk message. Officers arrived at Johnson’s house a few hours later and issued her a citation for 2nd degree criminal tampering, which could result in up to a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.
After hearing her story, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has decided to take Johnson’s case .
“It’s really making a mountain out of a molehill,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director at the ACLU of Colorado. “It’s just chalk. To charge a crime that’s punishable by up to a year in jail is excessive, given the facts of this case.”
Silverstein does not know of any other case of criminal prosecution over a chalk message.
“The state would have to show that she tampered with property with the intent to cause injury, inconvenience or annoyance,” Silverstein says. “And I think it’s very clear she didn’t do anything with the purpose of causing injury, inconvenience or annoyance. She wrote with chalk to communicate a message to her congressperson.”
Johnson is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 19. Silverstein says the ACLU will contact the district attorney before then to ask that the charges be dropped.
The building’s manager has not yet responded to a request for comment from KUNC.