News Violence

School Officials Accused of Covering Up Sex Assaults Appear to Have Resigned or Been Removed

Sharona Coutts

A job posting on West Virginia's Mingo County Board of Education website lists two available positions at Burch Middle School, which is at the center of explosive allegations that school officials conspired to cover up allegations of sexual assault of minors on school grounds and on school buses in order to protect the perpetrators, who were allegedly related to officials at the board of education.

It appears that two of the West Virginia middle school officials accused of covering up multiple sexual assaults of students have resigned or been removed.

A job posting on the Mingo County Board of Education website lists two available positions at Burch Middle School, which is at the center of explosive allegations that school officials conspired to cover up allegations of sexual assault of minors on school grounds and on school buses in order to protect the perpetrators, who were allegedly related to officials at the board of education.

The positions advertised are “Principal” and “Teacher/Health & PE,” and appear on a bulletin dated May 1, 2014.

Melissa Webb was the principal of Burch Middle School, and Melvin Cunningham was a teacher and athletic coach, according to the civil rights injunction filed yesterday. As Rewire reported Thursday, both were named as defendants for their alleged roles in covering up incidents in which two male students repeatedly trapped their victims in school buses or classrooms and assaulted them, including penetration.

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The allegations came to light Thursday, though the West Virginia attorney general’s office has been investigating the case since at least April, when investigators noted that school officials had most recently attempted to retaliate against the victims for their cooperation with the investigation.

A third named defendant—school guidance counselor Hester Keatley—is running for a seat on the education board in Tuesday’s primary elections.

Rewire’s call to the Mingo County Board of Education was not immediately returned.

Investigations Violence

Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault, Failed by Criminal Justice System, Increasingly Seek Civil Remedies

Sofia Resnick

Unlike criminal trials, which require the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil trials have a much lower bar, requiring only that a plaintiff persuade a judge or jury that it is more likely than not that the events occurred.

This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

Alfredo Simón, a former pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who is now a free agent, is big for a baseball player.

The 34-year-old stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 265 pounds, according to his official stats. Simón’s stature may be imposing on the field, but it seems even more so when reading through a civil complaint lodged in 2014 that accuses him of rape.

According to his accuser, the assault occurred when Simón was in Washington, D.C., playing with his old team, the Cincinnati Reds, in a game against the Washington Nationals. The 29-year-old woman, who in court documents is named Jane Doe, says she met Simón at a club, where she consumed several drinks and became intoxicated. Doe left with Simón in the early morning hours of April 28, 2013, and they started making out in his hotel room.

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But then things turned.

Simón, she says, held her down despite her resistance, and anally raped her. Each time she tried to flee, she says, he would push her back onto the bed. Doe says he eventually yanked her by her hair and ejaculated in her face.

A forensic nurse examiner recorded Doe’s injuries in the sexual assault exam she took at the hospital later that day. Four days later, Doe reported the assault to police. According to the court documents, the rape kit detailed vaginal and anal abrasions and anal tears—injuries that, forensic medical experts would later testify in the civil case, corroborated her story. These injuries were not, however, recorded in photographs. Doe declined the nurse’s offer to snap images of her injuries, perhaps not understanding their potential value in bolstering her version of events.

Instead, an image that did make it into Doe’s police file was a photocopy of her cell phone exchange with the friend she had gone out with that night. Doe told her friend she was leaving the club to go “fuck the baseball player.” In her initial interview with police, Doe explained that she had intended to have sex with Simón. But, as noted in her civil complaint, she withdrew her consent once Simón “started to get rough with her.”

Police did not interview Simón, according to court records.

Ultimately, the evidence gathered wasn’t enough for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which prosecutes crimes that occur in D.C. The prosecutors presented this case to a grand jury, but notes from Doe’s police file indicate it was the U.S. Attorney’s Office that made the decision not to file charges against Simón, citing “insufficient evidence” and “good defense.”

Historically, that would have been the end of the matter, at least from the defendant’s perspective.

But Doe did not accept the state’s view as the final say on her case. Instead, she filed a civil lawsuit against Simón, claiming $10 million in punitive damages for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and $5 million to compensate her for medical expenses and lost wages. The case ultimately settled for a fraction of that amount—$150,000, Simón’s attorneys told USA Today—and Simón did not admit any wrongdoing.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., would not comment on Doe’s case. “We are legally barred from providing information about confidential grand jury proceedings,” he said in an email.

Legal experts told Rewire that by suing her alleged attacker in civil court, Jane Doe joined the ranks of a growing movement in the field of sexual assault.

Though there is no comprehensive national database that tracks the number of civil cases brought against alleged perpetrators of sexual assault, anecdotal evidence suggests a trend in the United States for victims to seek civil redress.

Every year, thousands of cases involving allegations of sexual assault are abandoned in the United States due to a range of reasons. These include lackluster police investigations, lack of forensic evidence, a victim’s unwillingness to testify, and, according to a recent White House report, because “law enforcement officers and prosecutors are not fully trained on the nature of these crimes or how best to investigate and prosecute them.”

Indeed, rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute and harder to prove. Even after decades of criminal justice reform and dedicated efforts from survivors and advocates, prosecutors are generally reluctant to go after alleged persecutors aggressively, often fearing they won’t win a conviction. Trials can also be traumatic for victims, who frequently face juries biased by cultural assumptions about rape.

“We [in society] generally don’t second-guess people who say that they were burglarized or say that their car was stolen or who say that they were assaulted, but we absolutely second-guess people that claim that they were sexually assaulted,” former special victims prosecutor Roger Canaff told Rewire in a phone interview. “We either are skeptical of the truth of the allegation or we look to blame that person.”

Unlike criminal trials, which require the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil trials have a much lower bar, requiring only that a plaintiff persuade a judge or jury that it is more likely than not that the events occurred.

For many victims, it is easy to see the appeal of choosing a venue where they are at least held to a more attainable burden of proof than in a criminal court. Sometimes they file a civil suit in addition to pursuing criminal charges, or they only make a civil complaint.

Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, whose Los Angeles-based firm has specialized in representing women who have been victims of various types of sexual abuse and harassment, says she is seeing increasing numbers of women consider civil remedies as a form of justice after they have been sexually attacked.

“More and more, I think victims are very seriously considering the civil option, because it’s empowering,” Allred told Rewire in a phone interview. “You’re moving from being a victim to a survivor to a fighter for change.”

This shift in mentality is especially apparent in the civil claims against Bill Cosby, who has become the face of one of the most high-profile cases of sexual assault allegations in the past decade. Allred’s firm—Allred, Maroko & Goldberg—represents about half of the nearly 60 women who have so far come forward with claims, reaching as far back as the ’60s, against the man formerly known as “America’s Dad.” Coverage of the claims against Cosby has intensified over the past two years, but the fact remains that the fallen Hollywood star has yet to serve time for any of the allegations against him. Cosby faced his first criminal charges in one of these cases only very recently. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania charged him with sexual assault in late December for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004.

For his accusers, Allred says civil court offers women another opportunity for justice. And she says the civil route is empowering because, unlike criminal prosecutions where the state is in charge, civil cases enable victims to decide whether and how to proceed in their case.

“It’s the case of the victim, not the case of the people of that state,” Allred said. “As [people] see women standing up and not being afraid to fight back, it does have a ripple effect, and it does inspire other survivors to think, ‘Well, if she can do it, maybe I can do it, too.’”

Suing to Change the System

The trend of rape-related civil lawsuits has been building over time, as University of Arizona law professor Ellen Bublick documented in 2006. In recent years, increased recoveries from plaintiffs have stemmed from sexual abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests and on college campuses, with settlements for rape-related lawsuits often averaging half a million dollars.

Rewire’s review of dozens of federal civil lawsuits involving sexual assault filed since 2012—available in public court databases and the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s civil case database—indicate that outside of a handful of deep-pocketed athletes and celebrities, most sexual assault survivors are seeking damages from third parties. The trend appears to be especially apparent with complainants at schools and in institutions, particularly correctional facilities, where prisoners are vulnerable to sexual assaults at the hands of prison guards and fellow inmates, and often have little recourse outside of civil redress.

Perhaps the most prominent use of civil laws to win justice for sexual assault victims has been by college students, who have forced universities to take campus sexual assault more seriously via cases filed under a 1972 civil rights law known as Title IX. The law requires educational institutions to take proactive action to ensure that students are not subject to sexual discrimination, including rape or other forms of sexual assault, such as harassment and sexual touching—or groping—that falls short of penetration.

Over the past few decades, survivors and advocates have leveraged the law’s requirements in order to build awareness of the problem of assaults on college campuses and in public high schools. A glowing reception at the Sundance Film Festival of the documentary The Hunting Ground, about on-campus rape, has only propelled momentum for solutions to combat attacks at universities.

And student advocates are explicit about the advantages that Title IX can have over criminal prosecutions.

The group Know Your IX, started in 2013 by a group of sexual assault survivors and their supporters, explains on its website that “many victims of sexual violence don’t want to turn to the criminal justice system.”

The group states: “[Victims] may fear skepticism and abuse from police, prosecutors, or juries; they may not want to go through the ordeal of a long trial; they may fear retaliation from their assailant, who will most likely not end up prosecuted, let alone convicted; and they may be hesitant to send their assailants to prison. But even survivors who do report to the police are often abandoned by the system.”

By contrast, Title IX requires schools to investigate every report of sexual assault. And as with all other civil claims, the victim must prove that it is more likely than not that the alleged assault occurred, rather than that the crime occurred “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Like Title IX activists seeking cultural change in the way institutions manage sexual assault cases, some victims have used a similar approach to spur action on the processing of rape kits.

Between 2012 and 2014, seven anonymous women from Harvey, Illinois, sued the Chicago suburb for the county’s failure to process and test rape kits that had been collected after they reported rapes between 1999 and 2008.

Like many jurisdictions in the United States, Harvey’s police had not begun testing the kits, even though they contained evidence collected from victims who had endured forensic exams that often last hours and can be invasive and distressing.

One of the victims, known as Jane Doe I, first reported being raped by her stepfather in 1997, when she was 11 years old. She submitted to a rape kit exam, which found semen in her vagina.

According to court records, Doe I’s mother reunited with the stepfather, Robert Buchanan, early into the police investigation, and asked her daughter to blame the assault on a schoolmate. Doe I recanted, as is common in sexual assault cases involving minors and family members, and police closed the investigation without attempting to match the DNA sample to Buchanan or to conduct further investigation, according to the complaint and subsequent court records.

In the civil case, Doe I testified that Buchanan went on to assault her for several years. She estimated that he raped her more than 100 times between 1998 and 2004, but her previous experience deterred her from reporting the crimes to police. Police tested her rape kit in 2007 and found a match to Buchanan’s DNA. City attorneys finally convicted Buchanan of sexually assaulting a minor in 2012 and sentenced him to six years in prison.

The City of Harvey awarded Jane Doe I $1.2 million and awarded the remaining six plaintiffs a combined $241,250, according to the Chicago Tribune. Together, these women, many of whom were minors at the time of their assaults, filed a total of three class action lawsuits that centered in part on the county’s failing to process or preserve more than 200 rape kits. Cook County prosecutors discovered these abandoned kits after raiding Harvey Police Department headquarters. Of these kits, only 50 were deemed viable for testing—including those of the anonymous plaintiffs in these cases—and led to charges against 14 individuals.

Monetary Justice

Toward the end of 2014, Mattie Bright desperately searched for a new high school for her daughter.

In November 2014, Bright’s then-15-year-old said three boys raped her in the middle of the school day in an abandoned classroom at Rosa Fort High School, in rural Tunica, Mississippi. Though police apprehended the alleged perpetrators, they returned to school two days later. One of the boys continued to ride the same bus as Bright’s daughter for months.

The criminal case is still pending, but last summer Bright sued the Tunica County School District in civil court, seeking damages to compensate her daughter’s psychological and emotional distress. Tunica is a rural town, and Bright cannot afford the hefty tuition of an all-girls private school, one of the closer options, said Stephanie Morris, the civil attorney representing Bright and her daughter.

The costs associated with this traumatic event continue to swell, Morris told Rewire.

“She has been severely depressed and having chest pains,” she said, of Bright’s daughter. “She needs counseling, extensive counseling. Quite naturally, this is something that affects women for years and years to come. Some people need counseling for the rest of their lives.”

While many states do offer some form of compensation to victims of violent crimes following a criminal conviction, they tend to only cover a limited range of expenses.

However, civil lawsuits allow victims to fight for compensation for the full range of their injuries—medical and psychological—and in that way, these suits can better reflect the true damage inflicted by rape and sexual assault.

According to the complaint Bright filed in August, she is suing the Tunica County School District and school officials for not taking proper action after the alleged rape occurred and for acting indifferently to the verbal and online sexual harassment her daughter allegedly experienced following the assault. The complaint claims that only when local media began reporting on the alleged attack four months later did the school take any independent action, firing two teachers and expelling the students implicated in the attack.

Katherine Kerby, the attorney representing the Tunica County School District and other school officials, declined to comment on the case.

Bright is also seeking punitive damages, as well as a requirement that the school district implement steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment and to fully investigate these incidents as they occur. The amount of damages sought is unspecified.

“The school district was so indifferent to what had happened to this child,” Morris said. “So, punitive damages would be appropriate just to deter them from this type of response, or non-response, in the future.”

Entrenching Inequalities

While the civil route offers some advantages, legal experts warn that it cannot take the place of robust criminal prosecution. Not only does it fail to remove dangerous individuals from society, but it also only works against defendants or institutions with deep pockets, a reality that excludes the majority of sexual assault cases.

After all, civil lawsuits are only an option for those whose perpetrators happen to have enough money to make them worth suing, a glaring inequality that lawyers and experts say will limit the extent to which civil action can be used to combat sexual assault.

University of Oregon law professor Tom Lininger in his 2008 Duke Law Journal article “Is It Wrong to Sue for Rape?” argues that lower-income defendants are more likely to serve time than rich defendants, who are more likely to pay for their crimes in civil courts.

Allred says that inequality is simply an unfortunate reality of an imperfect system.

“As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t get blood out of a stone,’” she said. “You know, is it worth it to spend hundreds of hours in a civil lawsuit against a perpetrator who has no assets? Where is the justice in the end?”

For LW, a resident of Washington, D.C., the fact that her alleged attacker did not have substantial assets was just one of the factors that ruled out civil proceedings in her case.

In an interview with Rewire, LW, who asked to be identified by her initials, said she was drugged and raped by a man she met at a concert in October 2012. She said the man, a friend of a friend, offered her a vodka and Red Bull, which, she said, knocked her out almost immediately.

LW said she awoke the next morning to a bed covered in vomit and blood, faded memories, and the realization that she was no longer a virgin. LW was convinced she had a solid case, a prime piece of evidence being that her rape kit matched the offender’s semen.

LW’s victims’ rights attorney, Bridgette Stumpf, confirmed the facts LW laid out about her case with Rewire but said she could not reveal any privileged information about her client’s case. Stumpf is the co-founder and co-executive director of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC, a nonprofit that since 2012 has offered free legal, case-management, and advocacy services to all victims of crimes in the District.

LW said the U.S. Attorney’s Office told her in July 2014 that her case was not strong enough to go trial. Months later, after filing a Freedom of Information Act request for LW’s police file, Stumpf and LW learned that her alleged rapist had changed his story. Initially, he denied raping LW and claimed he had simply brought her home. But when told his semen was found in a rape kit, LW said, he shifted his story, claiming they had had consensual sex. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on LW’s case.

LW seriously considered filing a civil lawsuit against the alleged attacker but ultimately decided against it.

“I decided it wasn’t for me,” LW said in a recent email. “It may seem that civil suits are ‘easier’ to win and are better at getting justice, but that comes with a price tag. The cases can be dragged out for a long time, the victim is put through intense questioning, sometimes even psych evals, and you have to re-live the whole experience. Plus, in a civil case, it is all about punitive damages. Most perpetrators don’t have money to pay to the victim, let alone anything else that you could sue for.”

And on top of that, even a successful civil suit would have failed to deliver the results LW said she most wanted. LW, like other rape survivors who spoke to Rewire, believes her alleged attacker has likely assaulted other women, or will again. LW is not alone in this thinking. Sexual assault researchers have found that many rapists, including so-called date or acquaintance rapists, are repeat offenders.

“For me, I realized that what I wanted most was for my perpetrator to face criminal charges,” she said. “I wanted him to get jail time and be registered as a sex offender, and have his DNA in CODIS [the FBI’s national criminal database]. The statute in DC for criminal charges in rape cases is 15 years. I have hope that one day, my perpetrator will face criminal charges for the rapes he has committed, but civil charges wouldn’t help me sleep at night.”

Investigations Abortion

Abortion Foes Use Misleading Videos to Pressure Planned Parenthood Contractors

Sofia Resnick

Sitting in the shadows of CMP’s high-profile video campaign is a lesser-known strategy abortion opponents have employed for decades—to cut off access to abortion directly at the source by trying to shut down existing Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and prevent new ones from opening.

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Sweat streaming into his cropped beard, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney stood alone on the steps of the United States Capitol on a recent Monday, beneath the sun’s noontime blaze, and livestreamed himself praying to God that the U.S. Senate would, later that day, vote to discontinue all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Prompted by a series of surreptitiously recorded videos produced by the California-based Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and deceptively edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood illegally harvests and sells aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, the vote failed. But Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister and longtime opponent of abortion rights, told Rewire that he believes this video series will continue to influence the abortion debate at the national level, and hopes it will devastate Planned Parenthood’s reputation.

Meanwhile, Mahoney is leading a much more direct, grassroots campaign against the nonprofit network of reproductive-health centers, by trying to halt construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in Washington, D.C.

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Sitting in the shadows of CMP’s high-profile video campaign is a lesser-known strategy abortion opponents have employed for decades—to cut off access to abortion directly at the source by trying to shut down existing Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and prevent new ones from opening. It’s just one element of the multipronged effort to curb abortion access and ultimately criminalize the procedure.

And the new videos represent a powerful messaging tool for grassroots campaigns like Mahoney’s.

“Certainly the videos give us more information to give out to the community and to press on why we wouldn’t want a Planned Parenthood in our neighborhoods and in our city,” said Mahoney, who is close friends with the leaders of CMP and who has been working to impede abortion access for nearly four decades.

A former national media director of the controversial anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, Mahoney now directs the Christian Defense Coalition and is the lead pastor of Church on the Hill D.C., a Christian activist group headquartered across the street from the Capitol. Last month, he helped launch a campaign called Abortion-Free DC after learning of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s plans to erect a new health center that will provide abortions in addition to other reproductive and sexual health services. The Planned Parenthood affiliate shuttered an older clinic (which did not provide abortions) last year and sold its 40-year-old downtown clinic in July as part of its plans to center its services at a larger, revamped facility.

Abortion-Free DC is a loose network of local activists (Mahoney said about 10 to 15 people have been showing up to planning meetings) who are currently employing a range of tactics to stall the construction of the new facility, from praying and staging protests in front of the building site, to using the new CMP videos to try to convince construction workers to abandon their posts. They’re mining D.C.’s building and zoning codebook, hoping to find Planned Parenthood in violation of any regulations. Mahoney said the group intends to carry out these actions “prayerfully, peacefully, and publicly.” On August 22, they are planning a prayer vigil at the building site, and starting September 23, the group says it intends to stage 40 days and nights of prayer and protest in front of the building site as part of the national 40 Days for Life campaign that targets abortion clinics.

While the efforts of Abortion-Free DC are local in scale, the use of these strategies and techniques are national.

At the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans last month, Saint John’s Seminary theology professor Angela Franks, a socially conservative author and activist, outlined the strategies that she used to stymie the construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 2005. Upon learning of the plans for the new clinic, Franks also formed a local coalition—which she dubbed Planned Parenthood Hurts Girls—to help orchestrate boycotts and breed hostility against Planned Parenthood. Franks’ conference session was called “Fighting Goliath: How to Take Aim at Planned Parenthood.”

More recently, abortion opponents in New Orleans successfully stalled a new Planned Parenthood facility. In addition to frequent protests by abortion foes, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond threatened contractors working with Planned Parenthood that the Archdiocese of New Orleans would deny them future building contracts for churches and schools. And the Louisiana state health department initially denied Planned Parenthood’s operating license application based on a new law targeting abortion clinics. On appeal, the state recently cleared the way for Planned Parenthood to begin construction. (Soon after, someone not yet identified attempted to set the construction site on fire.)

In D.C., Mahoney’s group is attempting to use many of the same techniques to stop the construction of the new clinic.

As in Louisiana, Mahoney’s group is seeking help from the Catholic Church. Abortion-Free DC has asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Arlington to lean on a general contractor working on the site who also sits on a Catholic high school board in Arlington. Mahoney said the group is preparing to send an open letter this week asking the archdiocese to threaten to deny future contracts with anyone building the health center. When contacted, the contractor did not respond to our questions or confirm these details. Archdiocese spokeswoman Elise Italiano would not confirm these discussions with Abortion-Free DC or the contractor in question, but said in an email said that “the diocese is always disappointed to learn that any business has partnered with Planned Parenthood.”

“Because we remain committed to the protection of all life, we oppose all efforts that undermine that principle; instead, we support programs which offer a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy the medical, financial, and material resources she needs during her pregnancy and after her child’s birth,” Italiano said.

The protesters are also trying to sway public opinion by painting Planned Parenthood as insensitive to the needs of schoolchildren. The new facility is located in a commercial and residential neighborhood in Northeast D.C., next door to Two Rivers Public Charter School’s elementary campus and across the street from Two Rivers’ middle-school campus.

“They know that people demonstrate, that people come out there with signs,” said Mahoney. “Why would Planned Parenthood be so insensitive to create this kind of turmoil in a neighborhood?”

Those “people” turn out to include Mahoney himself: Prayerful demonstration is something in which the reverend takes considerable pride. When asked to provide Rewire with a picture to accompany this story, Mahoney supplied an image of himself getting arrested in June 2010, after he trespassed at the former Planned Parenthood site in Northwest D.C. He was arrested (but not prosecuted) after praying on the clinic’s sidewalk entryway, shortly after the center had erected a short fence in front of the clinic to keep activists at bay.

(Source: Rev. Patrick Mahoney)

(Source: Rev. Patrick Mahoney)

This was not the only time Mahoney has been arrested in his three decades of protesting at that facility, but he noted that his form of protest is to pray and that he himself has never held signs in front of an abortion clinic. In fact, he said he tries to discourage activists from using graphic signs.

Indeed, Dr. Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., said she was very familiar with the frequent protesters—including Mahoney—at the old center.

“The irony is stunning,” she told Rewire in an interview, when told that Mahoney had criticized Planned Parenthood for potentially subjecting school children to protesters at the new facility.

Meyers said the affiliate’s board has been planning for years to relocate and expand services at a bigger clinic, and that they purchased the new building two years ago. She said the affiliate is working to complete construction and reopen in the District in early 2016 and that they have discussed plans for the center with the Two Rivers schools and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

“We’re really excited about being embedded in that community, and our goal is to be great community neighbors, for both the charters and others living in the neighborhood,” Meyers said. “We provide preventive health care to thousands of men and women, and we are striving to be great community partners.”

Mahoney said his group is also exploring regulatory avenues to shutter or stall the building’s construction, but an initial strike fell flat.

Last month, activists filed a complaint with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, claiming Planned Parenthood was violating the District’s building rules by not properly displaying a permit sign. However, upon inspecting the property, inspectors determined that Planned Parenthood is complying with all building regulations, the department’s legislative and public affairs director Matt Orlins told Rewire.

Of course, even if Abortion-Free DC were to succeed in stopping the new Planned Parenthood, the District would not actually be “abortion-free,” as there are a few independent abortion providers there.

But for longtime abortion foes, the opportunity to block the Planned Parenthood clinic in D.C. is symbolic.

And the group is leveraging the recent attack videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, whose co-founder is Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, where Mahoney worked before Newman became president of the organization.

Mahoney said one of the Abortion-Free DC activists has shown some of the videos to construction workers and repeated CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood unlawfully sells fetal tissue for profit. None of the unedited videos actually support this allegation, and the numerous state investigations into those accusations have so far returned no evidence of wrongdoing.

Mahoney dismissed criticism of CMP’s work, which he said his friend, Newman, revealed to him two weeks before it launched. He argued that critics’ claims that the videos were deceptively edited are baseless because the group has released the full unedited footage.

But Mahoney admitted that he has not watched most of the unedited videos, save for the first one that was released in mid-July.

“I haven’t bothered looking at any of the other unedited tapes, because it’s just so long and I trust the integrity of David Daleiden,” he said, referring to CMP’s chief executive officer.

Ultimately, though, Mahoney and his fellow Abortion-Free DC activists believe the true power in the videos is not in their accusations that Planned Parenthood might have broken federal law.

After a recent Friday-night strategy meeting, Mahoney and seven of the Abortion-Free DC activists gathered for drinks at the Dubliner, an Irish pub near the Capitol. Many of the activists told Rewire that the aspects of the videos that move them and are likely to sway people who generally support abortion rights are the graphic images of discernible fetal body parts and the seemingly casual manner in which some of the Planned Parenthood doctors and directors talk about fetal remains and the donation thereof.

Clutching her 2-month-old daughter, Michele Hendrickson explained the anger she felt watching the first Planned Parenthood video, wherein Planned Parenthood senior medical director Deborah Nucatola tells undercover CMP operatives that processing fees for fetal-tissue donation range from $30 to $100. In the edited version, though, she appears to be saying that affiliates sell specimens for about $30 to $100 each.

“Two months ago, her liver would be worth $30,” said Hendrickson, referring to her daughter, Lucy. Hendrickson serves as the capital regional coordinator for Students for Life of America, which advocates against abortion on college campuses. “Two months ago her body parts were worth something that were just casually discussed. I’m totally fine with calling that heartless.”

The videos contain no evidence of abortions occurring that close to viability, but rather, of predominantly first- and second-trimester procedures, including for fetuses with fatal anomalies and for victims of sexual assault.

At the end of the day, the Abortion-Free DC activists realize their effort to stop the new Planned Parenthood clinic is “a serious uphill battle,” Mahoney said. But he said they are committed to fighting regardless of what happens.

And Planned Parenthood is too. The D.C. affiliate’s director, Dr. Laura Meyers, said she is not fazed by these dedicated efforts to block construction of the new health center.

“Regardless of what swirls around Planned Parenthood, we continue to see patients; we continue to provide care no matter what,” Meyers said. “And we will build that building.”