Representative Ken Buck's office has no comment about the decision to drop a charge against a woman who wrote the message "Stop Putting Kids in Cages" outside his Castle Rock office and signed it "Jesus" even though his staffers almost certainly decided to turn the incident into a criminal matter in the first place.
On June 6, according to ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein, Castle Rock resident Shauna Johnson "was very, very concerned about what was going on down at the border with the separation of families, and she was making an effort to let her congressperson, Ken Buck, know about her opposition. She went to his office and spoke with the director of the office, but I don't think she felt she was heard."
As she was leaving with her own children, ages two and five, "one of the kids dropped a bag that had chalk in it," Silverstein continues. "And at that moment, she decided to write a message in chalk outside the office, and then she left. But a few hours later, a Douglas County sheriff's deputy came to her home and gave her a citation for second-degree criminal tampering," an offense punishable by three to twelve months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
That Johnson might actually wind up in stir over such a communication wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. In 2015, police critic and provocateur Eric Brandt was sentenced to ninety days of hoosgow time for a sidewalk-chalk drawing of a crying swine wearing a Westminster Police Department badge accompanied by the line "MAKE A PIG WAIL & YOU'LL GO TO JAIL."
For her part, Johnson "had no idea that she could get in trouble for writing her message," Silverstein stresses, "and she actually went back to the office to clean up the chalk. But it had already been cleaned up — and there was a big rain that night, so it would have been gone anyhow."
The case fell under the jurisdiction of 18th Judicial District DA and Colorado Attorney General candidate George Brauchler, and to establish that Johnson had broken the law, Silverstein says, "he needed to prove that she was guilty of trying to injure, annoy or inconvenience — and she didn't have that kind of criminal intent. She only had the intent of sending a message to her congressperson."
The ACLU's argument appears to have swayed Brauchler. Late last week, his office tweeted that it was dropping the matter.
That ends the controversy from Silverstein's perspective. In his words, "I don't think this was a case worth a prosecution under second-degree criminal tampering. Maybe the prosecutor just realized it was overkill."
Whether Buck's staffers have reached the same conclusion is unclear. In response to an inquiry from Westword, Buck spokesman Kyle Huwa, corresponding via email, wrote, "We have no comment to add at this time."
We're still waiting to find out what Jesus would say.
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