Two men were convicted Monday in federal court in Manhattan of unlawfully obstructing the entrances to a Planned Parenthood of New York City health center. The men, Richard R. Dugan and Theodore A. Puckett, were charged with interfering with clinic staff and patients, in violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. They were found guilty following a one-day bench trial before United States District Judge Robert W. Sweet. Dugan is from Louisiana and Puckett from Tennessee.
In a statement, Joan Malin, President and CEO of PPNYC said:
PPNYC is pleased that the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has rendered a guilty verdict in this case. The Court has sent an important message – that the women, men and teens of New York City shall not be impeded in accessing reproductive health care, and that blockading entrances to health care clinics will not be tolerated.
The men were originally arrested in December 2009.
According to evidence and information presented during the bench trial:
Both Dugan and Puckett positioned themselves in front of the clinic entrances and prevented ingress to or egress from the clinic by physically blocking the entrances with their bodies [and] prevented clinic staff and patients from entering the clinic. They continued their obstruction of the clinic entrances even after New York City police officers arrived and asked them to move away from the clinic. They only ceased their actions after the officers arrested them and removed them from the scene. In addition, Dugan and Puckett made clear through their actions and statements that they acted in order to prevent clinic staff from providing, and clinic patients from obtaining, reproductive health services.
They were each found guilty of one count of violating the FACE Act and each face a maximum potential sentence of six months in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $10,000. They are scheduled to be sentenced on June 10, 2010, by Judge Sweet.
In her statement, Malin thanked both law enforcement officials and the community for their support.
The first priority of Planned Parenthood of New York City is the continued health and safety of our staff and our patients. Although we vigorously defend the right of anyone to peacefully voice their opinion and to hold peaceful protest, when the line is crossed into acts of intimidation, violence and/or blocking access to our health centers, we rely on local law enforcement officials, the FBI and the US Attorneys office to take action and bring violators of city, state and federal law to justice. We thank them for their vigilance in upholding these laws. We also thank the community in which we operate for their commitment to women, men and teens having unfettered access to reproductive health services. Their proactivity when they have concerns about protester activity has been appreciated.”
Some have argued that not enough has been done to enforce the FACE Act. Recent cases involving charges of FACE Act violations have involved a man who threatened reproductive health care provider Dr. Warren Hern and many felt that more stringent enforcement of the FACE Act might have prevented Dr. Tiller’s murder in May 2009.