News Abortion

More Charges Against Kansas City Planned Parenthood Dismissed

Robin Marty

Over two dozen charges regarding abortions performed nearly a decade ago have been dismissed by a dstrict judge.

Note: This post was updated at 3:30 p.m. Eastern to provide an update on the state of the suit regarding Kansas’s TRAP bill.

A witch hunt that began with former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline is drawing closer to an eventual conclusion, as another 26 charges against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, Kansas have been dismissed by a district judge.

Via The Associated Press:

A Kansas judge on Thursday dismissed 26 misdemeanor charges against a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood clinic, honoring a prosecutor’s request to further narrow a criminal case over allegations the clinic performed illegal late-term abortions.

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Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe confirmed Thursday night that District Judge Stephen Tatum signed an order late in the afternoon at Howe’s request. Tatum’s action is noted in online court records, but without any details.

Attorneys for the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park had requested in March to have the same charges dismissed. The clinic’s attorneys argued that the charges — covering 13 abortions in 2003 — were filed beyond a two-year deadline for pursuing charges in effect when the pregnancies were terminated.

“Basically, we don’t dispute their contention,” Howe told The Associated Press.

The charges were part of over 100 that were filed against the clinic by then-state Attorney General Phill Kline, who was determined to find the clinic guilty of a crime in order to shut it down. Remaining charges involve accusations that the clinic violated a Kansas law regarding abortions after viability, which the clinic denies. 

Kansas formerly allowed late abortions in the case of endangering the health of the woman or girl carrying the fetus. The law was later amended to deny abortions to women on grounds of mental health. 

Kansas has had no provider of late abortion care since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

In other Kansas news, the State sought to have a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Center for Women’s Health, the practice of Drs. Herb Hodes and Traci Nauser, dismissed. The suit was filed in response to the state’s new TRAP legislation, which is meant to close the clinic by enforcing costly and medically unnecessary modifications to the building and way abortions are performed there.  A district court judge turned down the request for a dismissal and said the suit could continue to proceed, and that the temporary restraining order on the law would stay intact.

“These regulations have never been anything more than an underhanded attempt to make it impossible for Kansas women to exercise their constitutionally protected reproductive rights,” Bonnie Scott Jones, special counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said via statement. “Politicians have absolutely no business inserting themselves between women and their reproductive health care providers. With today’s decision, the dedicated physicians challenging this law will have their day in court to stand up for their own rights and the rights of their patients.” The Center for Reproductive Rights is representing the clinic owners in their suit.

The ongoing legal fights are a reminder that in many cases, the judiciary can act as the final arbitrator when it comes to anti-choice legislation and lawsuits. Which makes it unsurprising that new candidates for office in the state are now running on a platform of revamping the judicial selection process, arguing that the governor should have the direct right to appoint judges and have their approved by the senate, rather than by a more potentially bipartisan committee as the state currently uses.

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.

News Law and Policy

Texas District Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver's license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.

UPDATE, July 26, 2:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Texas dismissed the remaining criminal charges against anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt related to their production of widely discredited, heavily edited videos alleging Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

The criminal charges against the pair originally stemmed from Republican Texas lawmakers’ responses to the videos’ release. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all called for the Harris County District attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast last August, after the release of one video that featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.

A Texas grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff and declined to bring any criminal charges against the health-care provider. More than a dozen state and federal investigations have similarly turned up no evidence of lawbreaking by the reproductive health-care provider.

Instead, in January, the grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver’s license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to entice a third party to unlawfully purchase human organs.

A Texas judge in June dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden on procedural grounds.

“This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought,” said Daleiden’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, in a statement following the announcement that the district attorneys office was dismissing the indictment. “Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”

“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. [Daleiden] and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” Melaney A. Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement emailed to Rewire after publication.

The district attorney’s dismissal of the felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt happened just before a scheduled court hearing requested by their attorneys to argue the felony indictment should be dismissed.

Daleiden still faces three civil lawsuits elsewhere in the country related to the creation and release of the Planned Parenthood videos.