Dr. James Pendergraft Claimed Police Refused To Stop Harassment By Protesters.
By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper of The Sentinel Staff
An abortion clinic owner hoping to end what he described as forces “terrorizing” and “harassing” his staff and patients filed suit in federal court Thursday asking for protection.
Dr. James Pendergraft owns clinics in Ocala and Orlando, but the legal action focuses only on the Ocala business.
Pendergraft claims the Ocala police chief and Marion County sheriff discriminated against his business when they would not allow him to hire off-duty officers to work security details at his facility.
“The reason we are filing this lawsuit today is because we are not getting any cooperation from governmental authorities to protect women’s rights,” Pendergraft said.
The suit asks for a number of remedies, including assigning federal marshals to guard the clinics. Ocala Police Chief Morrey Dean referred all questions to the city’s attorney, Patrick Gilligan, who said Dean had the right to decide how his officers were used and by whom.
Gilligan said the chief would turn down a request from a topless bar, the Hell’s Angels or the clinic.
“They [the officers) are representing the city of Ocala and he wants to decide how they are deployed,” Gilligan said.
Pendergraft said the issue is how the citizens of Ocala are protected from anti-abortion activists.
In the suit, the doctor claims protesters regularly try to keep women from coming into his clinic.
He points to other tactics, such as copying down license-plate numbers of patients’ and staff members’ cars.
To curb the activists, Pendergraft is asking a federal judge to keep protesters across the street, limit their number to no more than five at a time and restrict protests to twice a week for an hour at a time.
Pendergraft’s attorney, Roy Lucas, said providing protection for abortion clinics in Florida has been more difficult than in other locations.
“There’s a Bible Belt problem here. You’ve got state judges overruling protective injunctions upheld by the Supreme Court,” Lucas said.