What We Know About The Case Against The Anti-Abortion Sting Video Activists

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January 26, 2016 6:04 p.m.
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Update: The Washington Post is reporting that David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt — the two anti-abortion activists indicted by a Houston grand jury Monday — are planning to turn themselves in to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, where they’ll post bail, according their Houston-based attorney Murphy Klasing.

The three years that anti-abortion activists poured into a covert video campaign to reveal Planned Parenthood was conducting illegal operations have finally resulted in a criminal indictment — an indictment against the activists, that is.

Since a grand jury in Houston, Texas, issued indictments Monday against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, two of the anti-abortion activists behind the “sting” videos being released by a group called Center for Medical Progress, a clearer picture has emerged of how the case came together.

The indictment by a Harris County grand jury came after a five-month investigation into the claims CMP and its allies had made against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast that the health organization was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

Here’s what we know about the indictment and what comes next for the CMP activists:

A Grand Jury Indicted The Activists For Using Fake IDs And For Offering To Buy Human Organs

In a press release announcing the grand jury’s decision, the Harris County District Attorney’s office said each of the two activists was indicted on a single count of “Tampering with a Governmental Record.” Daleiden faced an additional count of violating the “Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs.”

Documents related to the “Tampering with a Governmental Record” count have been made public and show the fake California IDs — bearing the names “Robert Sarkis” and “Susan Tennenbaum” — Daleiden and Merritt allegedly used in their effort to record Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast officials covertly.

CMP activists had been accused of using fake IDs to gain access to Planned Parenthood officials in California. The IDs in the Texas court documents resemble those put forth in a lawsuit Planned Parenthood California affiliates filed against Center for Medical Progress’s operation there.

If prosecuted, the count could bring up to 20 years in prison, according to the Washington Post.

The human organs count said Daleiden was being indicted for “intentionally and knowingly” offering “to buy human organs, namely fetal tissue, for valuable consideration.”

Josh Schaffer — a Houston attorney representing Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast — told reporters on a press call Tuesday the human organs count likely stemmed from an email Daleiden allegedly sent to a Planned Parenthood official offering $1,600 per sample of fetal tissue. He said the official did not respond to the email.

The human organs count is a Class A Misdemeanor, which can bring up to a year in jail or a $4,000 fine, Schaffer said.

Center For Medical Progress Argues It Is Using Traditional Journalistic Techniques

In a statement posted to the Center for Medical Progress website, Daleiden said the group “the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press.” He also argued that “buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well.”

Schaffer told reporters that felony arrest warrants have been issued for Daleiden and Merritt. They can either turn themselves into the Houston court, where they each face a $10,000 bail, or they could be extradited to Harris County, the lawyer said.

A separate court is handling Daleiden’s human organs count, Schaffer said, and he will also have to post a $1,000 bond there, according to the indictment document.

The Initial Investigation Into Planned Parenthood Was Called For By The Governor’s Office And Led By A GOP-Appointee

The Harris County investigation into Planned Parenthood was launched at the urging of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) in August, after the release of a video filmed at the Houston affiliate. In light of Monday’s indictment announcement, the governor’s office posted a statement that said, “Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been leading the state’s own investigation into Planned Parenthood and has testified in front of state legislators.

In the Monday press release, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson — who was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2013 — said her office, in embarking the investigation, would go “where the evidence leads us.”

“All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect the grand jury’s decision on this difficult case,” she said in Monday’s press release.

Schaffer told reporters on Tuesday’s press call that the Harris County authorities spent five months investigating the claims against Planned Parenthood as well as the actions of the CMP activists. He said Planned Parenthood officials cooperated with investigators — giving access to facilities and documents, and participating in interviews — but were not called upon to testify in front of the grand jury, whose proceedings began in December.

“At that point in time, it was undisputed that Planned Parenthood had engaged in no criminal conduct at all, and none of its employees had either,” Shaffer said. “The grand jury never considered an indictment against Planned Parenthood and its employees.”

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