PITTSBURGH (CN) – Pittsburgh police selectively enforce the city’s 15-foot health clinic buffer zone against “known abortion protesters,” a man claims in Federal Court. He says he was cited for “defiant trespass” simply for standing on a public sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Keith Tucci claims Officer Bryan Sellers cited him for passing through the buffer zone on a public sidewalk, even though he “was not demonstrating or picketing.”
He says the ordinance that created the buffer zone only bars people from protesting within 15 feet of hospitals and health clinics. “[M]erely standing in or passing through the buffer zone is permitted,” he says.
Sellers allegedly ticketed him “based upon their history,” as Tucci is a “known abortion protester.”
“Officer Sellers testified that if he had not known Mr. Tucci, he would not have considered Mr. Tucci’s actions to be in violation of the statute,” the lawsuit states.
Tucci says this is par for the course, as the city has a “pattern and policy of selectively enforcing [the ordinance] against known abortion protesters.”
He says this policy is advanced by Sellers, who lingers at the abortion clinic despite his “history and pattern of harassing abortion protesters without cause.”
Tucci says the city continues to let Sellers respond to calls at the clinic, even though the officer has been known to harass abortion protesters with “unfounded citations.”
The lawsuit claims Sellers once drove his personal car to the clinic, “got out in plain clothes and attacked pro-life signs that had been set up on the sidewalk.”
The city knew about Sellers’ “improper and illegal activities,” the lawsuit claims, such as allowing his police dog to “lunge and bark loudly at peaceful protesters who were outside the 15-foot buffer zone so as to intimidate them.”
Sellers was allegedly assigned to a different area based on protester complaints, but Tucci claims he continues to harass abortion protesters at the clinic.
Tucci says Seller isn’t the only officer with a bias against abortion protesters. He says Pittsburgh police “quickly respond to calls from abortion clinic employees and escorts,” but often “ignore calls made by abortion protesters.” And when they do respond to protesters, “they brush past the person who made the call to speak to clinic employees first,” he adds.
He says the city’s selective enforcement of the buffer zone violates his rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, peaceful assembly, freedom from unreasonable seizure and equal protection.
Tucci seeks unspecified damages and an order barring Pittsburgh from interfering with these rights.
His attorneys are Lawrence Paladin, Jr. and Cathy Brannigan.