Micah and Sarah Hainline took their children to a protest.
It was July 24, a nice summer day, and the Expect Us group which leads protest marches all around the St. Louis region to bring attention to the issue of police brutality and racial inequity was holding a “Good Trouble” march in St. Charles to honor the memory of Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights icon who had died the week before.
If you’ve attended many protests since they became part of St. Louis life after the Ferguson uprisings in 2014, particularly during daytime hours, seeing parents pushing their children in strollers as they participate in such civic activities is hardly unusual. For many, it’s about modeling behavior, or teaching their children about democracy and the responsibilities of an American citizen.
So it was for Micah and Sarah with their 2-, 4- and 6-year-olds. Then there was this:
“The kids were excited to be there,” Micah says. “They enjoyed the chants. They had fun.”
The family is white. They live in the city. They carried Black Lives Matter signs and marched with the Expect Us protesters, who ended up at the intersection of Fairgrounds Road and Interstate 70.
“We were being very careful,” Micah says, staying in the rear of the protest near the support vehicles. When the march got to I-70, and it became clear that the protesters intended to shut down traffic on the interstate, the Hainlines hung back on the on-ramp, and started making their plans to head home for the day.
But there was a problem. Police were lined up on both sides of them, one set on the interstate, in effect closing it down themselves, to keep the protesters safe, and another line blocking the exit to the on-ramp. The Hainlines were stuck. They were about halfway up the on-ramp when they heard what they thought was a call from police over a loudspeaker to disperse.
“We were trying to leave,” Sarah says. As they were walking, a St. Charles police officer approached and stopped Micah, who says the officer asked for an ID, name, and other information. The officer detained the family and indicated that they were in violation of “child endangerment” laws. The officer told them calls would be made to the Division of Family Services.
Micah and Sarah were dumbfounded.
“Literally, our kids were happy and safe,” Micah says. “At no time were they not happy and safe.”
The officer let them go after gathering their personal information. As the protest continued, the Hainlines walked back to their vehicle and left. Three days later, a detective from St. Charles called them. He told them they needed to turn themselves in to be booked on three counts each of the Class A felony of child endangerment.
They called the jail support phone number provided by Expect Us, and then went to the police station. Now, they are represented by attorney William Waller with the nonprofit law firm ArchCity Defenders. The allegations, Waller says, are bogus.
“There is no reality in which anything they did is conceivably a Class A felony of child endangerment,” Waller says. “The only people who committed any crimes here are the police.”
ArchCity Defenders has filed a Sunshine Law request to get the narrative report of what led to the arrest of the Hainlines and the city hasn’t provided it.
Indeed, the crime of Class A felony child endangerment requires the death of a child. To qualify as a Class B felony, the children would have to be injured, which they were not. The Hainlines’ children are very much alive. But they’re not so happy anymore. They’re worried about their parents being arrested.
Micah and Sarah went to the police station. They got booked. They had their DNA taken, which under the law could only be done if they were charged with a serious felony. It took almost three months for the city to send the charges to St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar.
Lohmar has sent the charges back to the city seeking more information. The Hainlines haven’t been charged with a crime, but the cloud of suspicion hangs over them as they wait a final word from Lohmar on what he plans to do.
Waller and his clients believe St. Charles is simply seeking to intimidate people who dared come to their city to protest. Unfortunately, it has worked. The Hainlines have limited exercising their right to protest as they deal with the threat of charges that they believe to have been invented out of thin air. They haven’t taken the kids to a protest since St. Charles. They are anxious, and so are their children.
“It was an intimidation tactic,” says Sarah. “But it has had a real effect on our lives. Police made bad trouble.”