By Bridget Hall, Staff Writer, Ocala Star-Banner
ORLANDO — While the federal courts sort through the Ocala abortion doctor’s lawsuit against the city police, the county sheriff’s office and a dozen protesters — a process that could take a year or more — the doctor has asked the courts for temporary relief from the “intimidation and harassment” outside his clinic.
Dr. James Pendergraft, owner of the Ocala Women’s Center, filed a temporary injunction Tuesday asking that protesters be banned from coming within 75 feet or bringing any surveillance equipment or weapons within 1500 feet of the abortion clinic.
The injunction also asks that anti-abortion protests be limited to no more than five protesters, for only one hour twice a week, and that signs contain no pictures but carry a disclaimer saying abortion is medically safe and legal.
Finally, the injunction asks that local law enforcement provide special duty officers for security at the clinic. The Ocala Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office allow businesses to hire officers for security detail, but both agencies have denied Pendergraft’s requests for officers.
Pendergraft’s attorney, Roy Lucas, said the court could rule on these requests in the next few weeks.
“I really asked for the maximum of what I can reasonably get,” Lucas said. “We tried to identify every form of bad harassment that bothers the patients and put a stop to it.”
Pendergraft, who carries a gun, brings a bodyguard and wears a bulletproof vest and an army- style helmet when he comes to his Ocala clinic, said the protesters use confrontational language and impede his ability to come and go.
“It is (the protesters’) intention to stop as many abortions as they can by creating such an environment that women never want to go to the Ocala Women’s Center,” Pendergraft said from his Orlando clinic, Every Person’s Own Choice, where a special duty Orlando Police officer patrols the parking lot.
Rev. Ed Martin, who leads the Ocala anti-abortion protesters and is a defendant in Pendergraft’s lawsuit, said the protesters are simply exercising their free speech rights, and that he discourages the use of gory signs or confrontational language. He dismissed the doctor’s personal safety measures as theatrics that “play well to the press.”
“Our purpose is to offer women help and assistance,” Martin said. “We say things like ‘We love you’ and ‘We care about you’, but we’ve never blocked anyone. Everything we’ve done has been constitutionally protected.”
Pendergraft said he is particularly concerned about protesters videotaping patients and staff. Photographs filed with the temporary injunction show Martin carrying a small video camera and another man filming the clinic from the property to the north, where a pregnancy counseling center is scheduled to open in the next month or two.
“That video camera is like a concealed weapon — it brings the imminent threat of blackmail,” Lucas said. “Ed Martin could be filming someone going into the clinic and harassing that person by the end of the day.”
Martin said he taped the clinic only after Pendergraft’s staff refused to stop videotaping the protesters. Martin said he wanted to document that the clinic was filming and harassing protesters and show that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
“I’ve never used anything on those tapes,” Martin said, adding that sometimes he used a “dummy” camera to fool the clinic. “I just taped over them. I’ve probably got my family vacation on it.”
Lucas said Roscoe Chamblin, co-owner of the pregnancy counseling center next door, also taped the clinic — an action Chamblin denied, saying he had an empty, broken camera on the property once but never filmed anyone.
“We are not here to cause problems for Dr. Pendergraft,” Chamblin said. “We’re just here to help women — and not just pregnant women, but any women who need help with housing or clothing.”
In order to enforce any injunctions against the protesters, Lucas said, the clinic needs special duty police officers.
“The job of the police is to protect and serve, not to abandon,” Lucas said. “They’ve abandoned this clinic here, turning it into a free-fire zone.”
City attorney Patrick Gilligan said Ocala Police Chief Morrey Deen had several legitimate reasons for denying Pendergraft’s request, including the feeling that having police officers work at the clinic might compromise the police department’s appearance of objectivity.
The sheriff’s attorney did not return a call for comment on the injunction, but in the past the sheriff’s office said it denied Pendergraft’s request because of a standing agreement with Ocala Police not to provide special duty officers within the city limits.
Also included with the injunction is an affidavit by Pendergraft’s assistant Michael Spielvogel alleging that County Commissioner Larry Cretul made “veiled threats” last January in phone conversations about opening the clinic.
Spielvogel said Cretul referred to the two unsolved arsons, eight days apart, that destroyed the last Ocala abortion clinic 10 years ago. Cretul said he cannot comment on the allegations because they are part of a pending lawsuit.