David Daleiden, the antiabortion activist who mounted a hidden-camera investigation against Planned Parenthood, turned himself in to authorities in Texas on Thursday morning.
Daleiden, 27, who was charged with a felony in connection with a fake California driver’s license he used as part of his ruse, posted bond immediately and is set to go home to California before returning to Houston for a March court date. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to the purchase of human tissue.
Another activist involved with the project, Sandra Merritt, turned herself in on Tuesday and also posted bond.
Prosecutors this week offered both activists probation, allowing them to avoid the possibility of jail time and a criminal record if they are ultimately found guilty. Such offers are standard in cases involving first-time, nonviolent offenders, said Jeff McShan, a spokesman for the Harris County district attorney’s office.
But attorneys for Daleiden and Merritt said they are not accepting the offer at this time, because they do not think their clients did anything wrong. Daleiden and his attorneys have defended his actions as “fully in the tradition” of investigative journalists such as those with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
“David will not be taking the [offer],” Peter Breen, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, told reporters outside the Harris County courthouse Thursday. The legal aid organization is assisting with Daleiden’s criminal defense. “What we want is an apology, and that’s where we’re at right now. He is innocent of the charges.”
The indictments stem from a project Daleiden launched through his little-known antiabortion nonprofit, the Center for Medical Progress. Using hidden cameras, fake driver’s licenses and mock Facebook pages, he attempted to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue left over from abortions for scientific research.
Selling such material for a profit is illegal, but clinics are permitted to recover some costs, such as handling and shipping.
Daleiden spent 30 months posing as a representative from a tissue procurement company, lunching with top Planned Parenthood executives and gaining access to private areas of clinics. In the summer, he released several edited videos as well as longer footage of his secretly recorded encounters.
The project prompted multiple investigations by Congress, by states and by Harris County, none of which have found wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. But in a twist, a Harris County grand jury did find wrongdoing by Daleiden and Merritt, handing down indictments against the pair last week.
In a statement Thursday, Planned Parenthood officials ridiculed Daleiden’s characterization of himself as a journalist.
“We don’t know of any journalists who have engaged in wire fraud and mail fraud, lied to multiple government agencies, tampered with government documents, and broken laws in at least four states — only to lie about what they found,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It’s hard to imagine anyone calling that ‘journalism.’ ”
Antiabortion groups have flocked to Daleiden’s defense, setting up the website IStandWithDavid.org and collecting more than 100,000 signatures in support of dropping the charges.
The groups have aimed their ire at Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, a self-described conservative Republican who has said she is “pro-life.” They have called the indictments politically motivated, noting that one of the office’s more than 300 prosecutors sits on Planned Parenthood’s board of directors.
That prosecutor, Lauren Reeder, revealed her conflict of interest early on and had no role in the investigation, Anderson has said.
Planned Parenthood supporters, meanwhile, have greeted the indictments as a form of vindication for the beleaguered organization. Since Daleiden’s videos were first released in July, multiple states have tried to cut off government funding to the group, as has Congress, drawing a rare veto from President Obama.
The organization maintains that it has done nothing wrong and that its fetal tissue donation program provides a valuable service to women. Still, it apologized for the tone of one of the videos — which showed a high-level official speaking cavalierly about abortion procedures — and stopped taking payments for donated tissue.
With various investigations turning up no wrongdoing by the group, and after a gunman upset about “baby parts” opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the group has gone on the offensive, demanding criminal charges against Daleiden in states where he filmed them surreptitiously.
That list includes California, Maryland, Florida and Texas. Already, the California attorney general has said she is examining the actions of the Center for Medical Progress for signs of illegal activity. Prosecutors in other states have been tight-lipped, declining to say whether they are looking into Daleiden’s work or what may come of those efforts.