A federal jury in California Friday determined that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and those associated with his Center for Medical Progress had caused "substantial harm" to Planned Parenthood facilities. The jury slapped Daleiden and his associates with $870,000 in punitive damages, and as much as $1.4 million in compensatory damages.
Between 2013 and 2015, Daleiden and Sandra Merritt secretly filmed abortion doctors and staff at Planned Parenthood clinics, including in April 2015 at a Denver Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains clinic. The heavily-edited videos — first released in July 2015 — alleged the clinics were illegally selling aborted fetus parts, a claim denied by Planned Parenthood officials. The civil trial claimed the defendants committed trespass, breach of contract, and that they violated federal recording laws as well as recording laws in California, Florida and Maryland.
According to Courthouse News, which covered the six-week trial, at least 13 states investigated those claims and found them false. Three congressional committees also looked into the matter but released no findings.
“The defendants’ plan here was not to find crimes, and it was not about journalism. It was about using any means, including illegal means, to destroy Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood attorney Rhonda Trotter told the jury
Daleiden claimed he was a citizen journalist and that the videos were intended to reveal crimes being committed by Planned Parenthood. But U.S. District Judge William Orrick III disallowed the defendants' use of First Amendment privilege as a defense.
The jury also found that Daleiden and Merritt violated the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act, known as RICO, and that tripled compensatory damages, which could bring the total award to $2.275 million. Videos shot at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains were cited as evidence in the trial, but PPRM was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed in San Francisco in January 2016.
In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said the videos "disrupted Plaintiffs’ operations and their delivery of services," and that they had to spend significant sums to address threats to the safety of its staff, health care providers and patients, as well as cyberattacks on Planned Parenthood websites.
After the videos were released, there was a "dramatic increase" in threats, harassment and other criminal activities that targeted Planned Parenthood clinics, the lawsuit said. "Most tragically, on Nov. 27, 2015, an armed gunman killed three people and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs."
The shooter, Robert Dear of Hartsell, reportedly told police that he was “upset with [Planned Parenthood] performing abortions and the selling of baby parts," allegedly a reference to the Center for Medical Progress videos. Dear has been deemed incompetent to stand trial a dozen times since the shooting, most recently on Nov. 4. He is being held at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.
Republican state lawmakers in Colorado also investigated the videos in a hearing on Nov. 8, 2015. After the shooting, then-Republican state Rep. JoAnn Windholz of Adams County, who sat in on the hearing, blamed Planned Parenthood for the shooting, stating the clinic had brought it on themselves.
The defendants plan to appeal the verdict.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains could not be reached for comment.