A pro-life sidewalk counselor who reported a potential bomb at a Planned Parenthood clinic has been cleared of all charges in connection with trying to stop potential violence at the abortion business.
As LifeNews reported in June, Kurt Linnemann was fighting charges and false arrest after he reported to police a suspicious package at a Planned Parenthood abortion business that he worried could be a potential bomb or explosive. Linnemann was outside the Wilmington Planned Parenthood on June 10, according to an email to LifeNews.com he sent, where he frequently helps women considering abortion find positive alternatives.
“I noticed an unusual cardboard box strategically placed about 15 feet in front of the main doors of planned Parenthood and 15 feet from the corner of 7th Ave and N. Shipley Ave., where we were standing,” Linnemann explained. he said he asked two fellow pro-life advocates who were with him “if they thought the box looked like a suspicious
package to them…and they agreed with me.”
Knowing that abortion centers and pro-life advocates outside them have both been targeted with violence, Linnemann told LifeNews, “I thought it best to call 911 to report
the suspicious package. I did not want any of us to get injured or killed nor did I want any of the Planned Parenthood employees or clients to be injured or killed.”
Minutes later, four Wilmington police cars arrived and one officer looked into the box, finding nothing it. As Linnemann relates: Another officer who seemed to be in charge said in a loud and firm voice…”put that down… it could have been a bomb, they bomb abortion clinics you know”. Overhearing his comment…I said “yes..that is why I called you”….he yelled at me…”keep your mouth shut, you were not supposed to hear that.”
Linnemann was eventually booked and charged with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for a false bomb threat report to officials.
On November 10, Linnemann was exonerated of the charge of causing a public disturbance by making a false 911 call outside the Planned Parenthood of Delaware abortion clinic.
Kurt chose to be tried by a judge, not by a jury. Both sides presented their case, and the judge rendered his verdict. During the trial, pro-life advocate Rae Stabosz said “The prosecution tried to paint peaceful pro-life vigilers as dangerous disrupters of social order.”
“Instead, this misdemeanor trial, which ran for three hours in the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas wasting taxpayer money, completely vindicated long-time pro-life activist Linnemann,” she said. “The case painted a picture for the public of the peaceful demeanor and non-threatening deportment of the ordinary men, women and children who gather regularly to witness to the value of unborn human life and to offer women alternatives to abortion.”
The state presented a very weak case. The police report stated that Lori Magno, a Planned Parenthood executive assistant, told the arresting officer that Kurt had witnessed her coming out of the building, examining the box, and going back inside. Since Kurt had witnessed her doing this, the police report reasoned, he knew that the box was harmless, and had concocted the whole story of being alarmed by the box in order to disrupt business on an abortion day
The state showed the surveillance video for that morning. The video showed clearly that Ms. Magno had examined the box at 7:09, and Kurt had pulled up in his van at 7:16. The video showed clearly that the police report was wrong – Kurt could not possibly have seen Ms. Magno examine the box.
Upon questioning, Ms. Magno denied that she had made any statement to the police saying that Kurt had observed her. Upon questioning, the police officer stated that he had written his report the day of the arrest, and that if he had written that Ms. Magno had said this to him, he must have believed it to be true, but in the confusion, who knows if he made an error in what he thought she had said.
The state then played the audio of the 911 call. We all heard a very calm Kurt say that there was a strange box outside PP and that it might be nothing but they might want to take a look at it just to make sure. He identified himself, spelled his name, described the box, all the time maintaining a calm voice, not once urging them to get down there, or asking that the building be evacuated. He simply reported the box and said that someone might want to take a look at it. The dispatcher asked if he had examined the box, and he replied that he was not allowed on PP property.
Jim Haley, Kurt’s lawyer, asked for a dismissal of charges after the state presented their case. He noted that the case had originally been built on the arresting officer’s report of Kurt’s knowledge that the box was harmless, but that the video clearly showed Kurt was not on the scene to see Ms. Magno notice and examine the box. The video from the previous night, played earlier by both counsels, clearly showed the box blowing up onto the property by the wind, thereby dismissing the suspicion voiced by police on the day of the arrest that Kurt had planted the box on purpose.
The judge did not agree to the dismissal, saying that the errors in the police report did not matter. The charge was disorderly conduct for making a false 911 call, and he still had some questions in his mind as to why Kurt had made the call. If he arrived at 7:16, why did he not make the call until 7:33 if he thought the box suspicious? He wanted to hear Kurt’s witnesses.
Sean, Susan and Kurt all testified. Sean and Susan had been sequestered from the trial, so they had not seen the video shown with the times noted. Their testimony agreed with Kurt’s. The reason for the lapse in time of 16 minutes was because Kurt and Sean first greeted each other and kibitzed in friendly conversation, before Kurt noticed the box. They then discussed it — did it seem out of place. They were still uncertain, and when Susan arrived with three children, they asked her if she thought the box seemed out of place and odd, since they’d never seen a box in front of PP before — deliveries are always accepted during business hours. Susan agreed it would be good to let the police decide, it was probably nothing but better to be safe. Susan and the children then backed away from the front of the building, and Kurt made the call.
The prosecutor tried hard to make the case that Kurt knew it was an abortion day and called 911 in order to evacuate the building and cause a disruption. She spoke more than once of how the phone call was all part of Kurt’s “agenda”. The judge questioned what exactly the evidence showed of Kurt’s agenda, and she admitted that the agenda was to offer options counseling to women going in for abortions. The judge asked the prosecutor why, if Kurt’s intention was to disrupt business, he had made the phone call a half hour before the business even opened. “Was he just incompetent?, the judge asked.
The judge ruled against the state and in favor of Kurt: “Not Guilty”, was the verdict he rendered. He saw no evidence that Kurt had done anything other than be particularly vigilant about a suspicious looking box at an abortion clinic, knowing that (as Kurt himself testified) some people did bomb abortion clinics. The judge made reference to how unfortunately we live at a time where not only do terrorists threaten, but also some protesters “who are not as responsible” as Kurt, Sean and Susan, behave badly.
Of course, it’s wonderful that Kurt was exonerated. To this writer, the most troubling aspect of the trial was how much money the state spent on an essentially trivial matter, how willing the police officer was to believe the worst, and how seriously the judge considered the question of Kurt’s motives, which to anyone who has ever worked the sidewalk with Kurt were transparent as can be. The judge was obviously impressed by the testimony of our three witnesses. The 911 call was innocuous. The video tape showed a bunch of people setting up signs and talking to each other. All three testified clearly and with no hesitation. The judge saw clearly that there was no case, no intent to disrupt, just ordinary people going about their business when confronted by an anomaly.
However, in his closing statements he praised the Wilmington Police Dept., he praised the Planned Parenthood folks, and he showed that he thought they showed remarkable efficiency. He did not think they had done anything wrong in arresting Kurt, he dismissed the discrepancies between the video and the police report by saying “we’re all human, we make mistakes”, and he obviously thought that although the state had a weak case, their point of view was understandable.
I know that many of you who are reading this do not show up at Planned Parenthood to pray and vigil, to offer resources and alternatives to abortion, even though you believe abortion is an injustice. I suspect that many of you reading this have some of the same ideas that the judge had — that abortion “protesters” are a threat.
I would like you to re-think your prejudices against sidewalk vigiling, in light of this trial. Kurt was brought to trial not because of his actions, but because of a prejudice against “protesters” and a pre-disposition to believe that pro-lifers are radicals.
If you have that idea, and have never participated in a peaceful, prayerful 40 Days for Life vigil, I would like to cheerfully throw a few catchphrases at you — “That’s SOOOO 20th century”, “that was then, this is now”, “pro-life witness in the 21st century is an activity that every follower of Christ can and should embrace.”
The culture at large still views pro-life witness as a radical political activity. This is not what we do each Friday at Planned Parenthood. We pray. We counsel. We offer literature. And people in the community have begun to respond. They can see that we care about the community itself, about the men and women of Wilmington and not just the babies who are at risk. The unborn need the protection of the law. This is what we try to do in the political arena — elect officials who will extend protection of the law to every human being, born and unborn, healthy and ill, young and old.
But on Fridays at Planned Parenthood, we witness to the value of the lives of the unborn children being killed that day, we pray for them and for their parents, we pray for the abortionist and the PP staff, we offer resources, we talk to clients, we sometimes take them to A Door of Hope or Birthright for real health care for both mother and baby.
And even Kurt’s judge – pre-disposed to view the state’s case in the most benign light — saw clearly that we do not engage in disruption. We’re just ordinary folks trying to convey an ordinary Christian thought — that all human lives are valuable.