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News >  Legal

Group ‘likely’ violated judge’s order with anti-abortion protests at Planned Parenthood, police say

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 22, 2020

A group of anti-abortion activists, pictured earlier this month, holds a  (COLIN MULVANY)
A group of anti-abortion activists, pictured earlier this month, holds a (COLIN MULVANY)
By Adam Shanks and Maggie Quinlan The Spokesman-Review

Despite a Spokane judge’s orders, a group of more than 30 people, led by State Rep. Matt Shea, congregated to pray around 6 p.m. Tuesday outside a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Though the group praying near the Indiana Avenue clinic remained quiet, the event included an amplified band. Their audience was a crowd of hundreds packed on the sidewalk and grass across the street from the clinic. Many sang, raised their hands in prayer and wore The Church at Planned Parenthood T-shirts passed out at the event.

The group prayer was “a likely violation of the injunction” issued Monday from a judge, Capt. Dave Singley of the Spokane Police Department said at the scene.

The order requires anti-abortion protesters to move across the street from the clinic or anywhere 35 feet away from the building. The order also prohibits protesting while patients and staff remain inside the building, which closes at 7 p.m.

But it remains to be seen what might come of the potential violation. The legal order created confusion for Spokane police, with Chief Craig Meidl saying Tuesday he was told by the city’s legal department that it carries no criminal penalties.

“Our understanding now is that, because there’s no criminal sanction, if there are violations, then the judge would decide what those sanctions would be,” Meidl said Tuesday. “We just got that (order) yesterday, so we’re scrambling to say, ‘How do we respond to that?’ ”

Singley said police recognized several people in the prayer group specifically named in Spokane Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary’s order. Police will write a report detailing the potential violations, but it will be Clary’s decision whether the actions violated his orders, Singley said.

“It’s important for us to let the community know we’re not taking a judge’s injunction and ignoring it,” Singley said.

The order, a preliminary injunction, was issued as Planned Parenthood seeks to permanently prevent the protesters from gathering on a small, grassy area outside its Indiana Avenue clinic. The nonprofit, which offers abortion and other health care services, says the events intimidate patients and staff, a violation of state law prohibiting interference with health care facilities.

In response to the order, TCAPP posted to its Facebook page that Tuesday’s event would be rescheduled from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. “You are welcome to pray” at 6 p.m., the post states, but “actual” worship service would begin at 7 p.m.

Pastor Ken Peters, one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, would not commit to relocating the protests in a video posted to Facebook Monday night.

“You can push us across the street, and we can worship God just as good there and we’re not going anywhere. It’s not that much further away from Planned Parenthood,” Peters said.

The order is not permanent. Planned Parenthood requested the preliminary injunction as it pursues litigation against leaders of The Church at Planned Parenthood.

“The judge is a tyrannical ruler, doesn’t understand our constitutional rights,” said John Kim Lee, who was at work during the earlier prayer but attended the concert event wearing a Trump 2020 ball cap.

In his 15-page order, Clary adopted many of the measures requested by Planned Parenthood, but denied the nonprofit’s request that violations of its parameters be punishable as a misdemeanor. The section of law Planned Parenthood cited in its request “does not appear to be applicable to a civil action,” Clary wrote.

Because the judge did not explicitly state that violating the order is a criminal infraction, Meidl said the department could be limited in its means to enforce the new rules, even if protesters return to the area deemed off-limits.

Meidl said the city’s understanding was that the injunction only applies to people who have been formally served.

Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit in June. As defendants, it names Peters, Shea, Covenant Church and Covenant Christian School, pastors Gabe Blomgren and Seth Haberman, and Clay Roy, who is described as the director of TCAPP.

“How do you enforce it on people who haven’t been served and are technically aware of it?” Meidl asked. “It left a lot of variables; it left a lot of unanswered questions from our perspective.”

However, if a person at the event commits a crime, such as trespassing, they can be arrested, Meidl noted. He said the department would also enforce state law that prohibits interference with a health care facility, and noise rules.

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