The Ruling Overturns Ocala’s Ban On Officers Guarding An Abortion Clinic On Their Own Time
By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper of The Sentinel Staff
OCALA – A federal judge has decided that police officers must be allowed to work as off-duty guards at an abortion clinic, overruling a decision by city officials that had prohibited them from doing so.
The ruling came in a motion filed by the clinic’s owner, Dr. James Pendergraft, who said he is trying to protect patients and staff at the Ocala Women’s Center.
U.S. District Judge William Hodges’ decision came this week as part of a request for temporary relief while the lawsuit is awaiting trial. Pendergraft also asked for a buffer zone around the clinic and for protesters to be limited in number, volume and type of demonstrations.
But Hodges denied the other portions of the request, saying the protesters’ actions fell under free speech protections.
“We were pleased with the immediate relief in the area of uniformed officers, and had expected the other issues that are more complex would require a full hearing before the judge,” said Marti McKenzie, a spokeswoman for Pendergraft. The suit is similar to ones filed by Pendergraft in Orlando, where he owns another clinic, and by Patricia Windle, who owns abortion clinics in Melbourne and West Palm Beach.
Before the Ocala ruling, the police chief and city officials had contended they had the right to tell officers they could not provide off-duty security at sites such as a Hell’s Angels’ convention, a topless bar or an abortion clinic.
McKenzie said Pendergraft is eager to hire police officers to work outside the clinic because of the positive presence that a uniformed officer provides. They are also more aware of laws that might be violated, she said.
The clinic has been hiring security guards in the absence of police officers, McKenzie said.