Police in Des Moines, Iowa, may have been trying to "scare" the peace movement when they ticketed the mother of an adolescent anti-war protester for corrupting her daughter, a law professor says.


Last week 12-year-old Frankie Hughes was arrested at the office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) when she refused to leave the premises during an anti-war protest.

Hughes' mother, Renee Espeland, was standing outside Sen. Harkin's office as her daughter protested, the Des Moines Register reported last week. The next day, officers from the Des Moines police department returned and issued Espeland a misdemeanor ticket for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

It was a move that alarmed at least one legal expert. The police may have been "trying to put a scare into the peace movement," said Drake University law professor Sally Frank.

"There is a difference between encouraging a child to break the law and encouraging thought and care for other people," she told the Register. "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."

But if fears of being accused of a politically-motivated prosecution were what motivated the county attorney to drop the charges, he isn't letting on.

"After further consultation it was decided not to go forward," Polk County Attorney John Sarcone told the Register. "Looking at all the circumstances, what happened didn't need to be addressed with a criminal charge."

"My reaction is that it wasn't an appropriate charge to begin with," Espeland said. "I don't know why they decided to reevaluate it but I think we are in a place of privilege because the media will pick up a story like that."

Twelve-year-old Hughes' account to Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive suggests the police may have threatened Hughes with her mother's arrest if she didn't leave willingly.

“They asked me if I wanted to be arrested,” Frankie says. “I said no.”

After the police conferred in the hallway, they came back. “They were saying they could put my mom on charges of delinquency of a minor,” she says. “She thought it was a joke, but I didn’t.”

When Frankie found out her mom had actually been charged, she was not happy.

“First I thought, like really, why would that happen? Then I got a little upset,” she says. “They think I don’t have a mind of my own and I’m not capable of feeling these things that are happening and that I’m not capable of trying to do something about it.”

According to the police report, police officers told Espeland her daughter would be arrested if they didn't leave Harkin's office. The report says Espeland replied that she felt it was important for her daughter to be arrested, but she disputes that part of the report, the Register states.

Espeland says she did not encourage her daughter to be arrested. "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."

Espeland told Rothschild that her daughter had grown up with political protests.

“She’s gone to protests before,” she said. "She’s been raised with it."