By Editorial Staff
Published August 5, 1999
By Mary Kelli Bridges, Staff Writer, Naples Daily News
The Fort Myers attorney representing abortion opponents in a federal civil lawsuit against Lee County Sheriff John McDougall has asked that a special prosecutor investigate possible criminal violations in the case.
In a letter dated July 14 and sent to Attorney General Janet Reno, attorney Christopher F. Sapp said he wanted to report three alleged violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act of 1994 by McDougall.
But Sapp said he was reluctant to request an investigation by Reno’s office because he thought she or President Clinton might be involved in pressuring McDougall to quiet anti-abortionists. So he has asked that an independent counsel get in touch with him.
One of Sapp’s clients, Robert Smith, also wrote a letter to U.S. Sens. Connie Mack and Bob Graham of Florida this week to ask that the Senate reverse last Friday’s confirmation of U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District.
Smith said he thinks Wilson might be the middle man in the campaign to pressure McDougall. He admits that’s just speculation at this point, but he wants to find out why McDougall, who’s been a vocal opponent himself against abortion, did an about-face on his dealings with the anti-abortionists who stood outside of the clinic.
McDougall had his deputies issue trespassing warnings on July 13 to two men who were standing outside the Southwest Florida Women’s Clinic in North Fort Myers. The warnings came after the property owners asked that people without business at the clinic be removed from the private property, McDougall said.
On July 28, the two men who were issued warnings, Smith and Ray Sienkiewicz, filed suit against McDougall as an individual and in his role as sheriff, saying he violated their right to counsel people regarding reproductive health services.
The suit also named John and Jane Doe as defendants. Sapp said that John and Jane Doe represent the people whom his clients believe pressured McDougall to remove them from the clinic property.
McDougall said he has no choice but to enforce the laws, which in this case happen to be a state statute against trespassing. He said the enforcement of trespassing laws has nothing to do with abortion, which he is still personally against.
“I think they’re grasping at straws,” McDougall said. “It really takes the focus off the real-life issue, which is the pro-life movement.”
Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment and his spokesman didn’t return calls.
About a month ago, Wilson talked to McDougall about complaints the Justice Department was receiving about “escalating acts of violence” at the North Fort Myers clinic, McDougall said. He said the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department brought up the topic to Wilson.
Wilson contacted the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to make sure the matter was under control and offer any assistance necessary to try to prevent violence, McDougall said.
McDougall said he told Wilson that he had already decided to follow policy written by a law enforcement think-tank on dealing with FACE Act issues. He asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide his deputies with training so they could respond to the abortion protesters and their attorney who turned out at the clinic saying they were providing counseling and referral services to patients.
The training was provided and the U.S. Attorney’s Office also offered to provide similar training to abortion opponents, but none of the protesters showed up at that meeting, McDougall said.
Sapp wrote to Reno that McDougall told his clients that he would be assisting the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the effort to stop his clients’ counseling and referral activities because of pressure from Washington on the U.S. attorney.
The sheriff scoffed at the idea of pressure from Washington, D.C.
“No one’s going to pressure me,” he said Tuesday. “I’m at my best when I’m being pressured.”
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