The two men who mounted a hidden-camera investigation against Planned Parenthood officials have been charged with 15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent.
In announcing the charges against David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the duo used manufactured identities and a fictitious bioresearch company to meet medical officials and covertly record the private discussions they initiated.
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
The criminal complaint alleges that on 14 occasions, between October 2013 and July 2015, Daleiden and Merritt filmed people without permission in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. The activists face a felony count for each person covertly recorded, and an additional felony charge for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.
The charges mark a major turning point in a case that had drawn national attention from both sides of the abortion debate and led to investigations — but no charges — against Planned Parenthood in 13 states. The secretly recorded conversations dropped during the politically tumultuous summer of 2015, amid a crowded field of Republican presidential contenders, and turned Daleiden into the biggest star of the antiabortion movement. The heavily edited videos attempted to discredit Planned Parenthood, long a target of the right, and galvanized conservatives’ efforts to pull funding from the women’s health organization and other family planning programs.
The court fight over the videos began in April 2015, when Daleiden and Merritt made site visits at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast headquarters, using fake names and driver’s licenses to portray themselves as a company interested in connecting Planned Parenthood health centers with research studies. The two were actually affiliated with Daleiden’s little-known antiabortion nonprofit, the Center for Medical Progress.
Daleiden calls the charges “completely bogus pandering” And added that in the coming weeks he will be releasing previously unseen footage pertaining to Planned Parenthood.
Daleiden’s lawyer, Steve Cooley, a former district attorney of Los Angeles, blamed the charges on Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a former attorney general of California whose office initiated the investigation that produced Tuesday’s charges. He claims Harris corrupted the current attorney general’s office to “pander to her constituents and her supporters.” Cooley said he looks forward to “cross examining her” in court.
“It was nothing more than a First Amendment journalist pursuing a good cause and fighting a battle, now a martyr who’s being crushed by the power of the State of California,” Cooley said.