A federal jury found a project led by undercover journalist David Daleiden caused harm to Planned Parenthood when participants infiltrated abortion industry conferences and secretly recorded abortion doctors and staff talking about the sale of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood, which lost millions in federal funding earlier this year, was awarded punitive damages of $870,000.
Daleiden heads the Center for Medical Progress. He and co-defendant Sandra Merritt posed as human tissue buyers for a fictional company called BioMax during a hidden-camera investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Daleiden and Merritt got into abortion industry conferences from 2013 to 2015, posing as exhibitors named Robert Sarkis and Susan Tennenbaum. The pair secretly recorded exchanges they later posted online, with Daleiden also posting recordings made at Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics in Texas and Colorado, according to Courthouse News Service.
Daleiden’s attorneys maintained his project was investigating “violent felonies,” based on a belief that infants were being born alive at clinics and that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of their tissue for research. They described Daleiden’s tactics as citizen journalism.
The jury of nine men and one woman found Daleiden and his group conspired to commit fraud, breach of contract and trespass and to violate federal and state recording laws in Maryland, California and Florida.
At least three congressional committees and law enforcement officials in thirteen states launched investigations into Planned Parenthood after Daleiden and his group released the first video on July 14, 2015. Planned Parenthood was cleared of wrongdoing by the states and so far nothing has come of the federal investigation.
Planned Parenthood lawyers denounced Daleiden’s and Merritt’s beliefs about crimes being committed by abortion doctors as a preposterous pretext to disguise their true mission to destroy Planned Parenthood, and claimed the release of the videos was part of a sophisticated scheme to smear the organization and deprive it of federal funding.
“The defendants’ plan here was not to find crimes, and it was not about journalism. It was about using any means, including illegal means, to destroy Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood attorney Rhonda Trotter told the jury.
Planned Parenthood is looking at a $2.275 million verdict in total, greatly increased by the finding defendants had also conspired to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which triples the compensatory damages. Daleiden’s lawyer Peter Breen said he will challenge that finding on First Amendment grounds, noting that the compensatory damages stem from the publication of the videos.
“We believe the compensatory damages should go to zero on appeal,” he said, adding that he found it ludicrous the jury found the defendants had participated in a racketeering conspiracy.