U.S. Attorney Graves Announces New Affirmative Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Unit in the District of Columbia
WASHINGTON – A Massachusetts woman was found guilty today of federal civil rights conspiracy and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act).
Paula “Paulette” Harlow, 75, of Kingston, was convicted following a bench trial. All nine defendants have been convicted of federal conspiracy against rights and FACE Act offenses following three separate trials in connection with an Oct. 22, 2020, blockade of a Washington, D.C., area reproductive health clinic. On Aug. 29, a jury convicted defendants Lauren Handy, John Hinshaw, Heather Idoni, William Goodman and Herb Geraghty. On Sept. 15, a separate jury convicted defendants Jonathan Darnel, Jean Marshall and Joan Bell. On March 1, a tenth defendant, Jay Smith, pleaded guilty to a felony FACE Act offense.
“Violence and physical obstructions that interfere with access to reproductive health clinics violate the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The convictions in this case send a strong message that such criminal conduct against reproductive health care providers and patients will not be tolerated, and the perpetrators will be held accountable. The Justice Department stands ready to protect both those who provide and those who seek access to safe and legal reproductive health care.”
“Our Constitution and laws protect many rights – to protest, to debate, to advocate for different laws. But no one is entitled to deprive other people of their civil rights. That’s a crime,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “With locks, with chains, with violence, these defendants conspired to prevent fellow citizens from exercising their rights to receive and to provide reproductive health care. As these verdicts show, our city will not tolerate that, and our department will ensure justice is done.”
“FACE Act violations such as this one are not taken lightly – these are serious crimes that endanger people’s physical safety and can be traumatizing for patients and staff,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our partners will always work to protect every American’s access to reproductive health care services.”
“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to peacefully express their opinions — not intimidate, threaten or interfere with those who are exercising their civil rights,” said Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington Field Office. “The FBI will continue to investigate FACE Act violations to ensure that patients and providers can receive or provide lawful reproductive health care without the threat of violence or intimidation.”
Evidence presented at trial established that the defendants executed a clinic blockade planned by the group’s leaders, Handy and Darnel. The defendants used social media, text messages and telephone calls to organize the blockade, and several defendants traveled from northeast and midwestern states to participate in the clinic invasion. Prior to the blockade, the defendants met with other co-conspirators to formulate their tactics, which included making a fake patient appointment to ensure the group’s entry into the clinic, using chains and locks to barricade the facility and passively resisting arrest to prolong the obstruction. The clinic invasion was advertised on social media as an “historic” event and was livestreamed on Facebook.
At the outset of the invasion, the defendants forced their way into the clinic, injuring a clinic nurse. The blockade forced one patient to climb through a receptionist window to access the clinic, while another was denied entry as she lay in physical distress in the hallway outside the clinic.
On Aug. 7, Smith was sentenced to 10 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release following his guilty plea. The remaining defendants, including Harlow, who were convicted following the three trials face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000 each. Those sentencing dates are yet to be determined.
The FBI Washington Field Office investigated the case, with valuable assistance from the Metropolitan Police Department.
Attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecuted the case. The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of New Jersey, District of Massachusetts, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, and Southern District of New York; and FBI Field Offices in Pittsburgh, Newark, New York City, Boston, and Detroit provided valuable assistance.