The “tepid” and “rude” police response to a firebomb attack on a pro-life demonstrator outside a Kalispell, Montana abortion clinic merits disciplinary action, the head of a Catholic legal group said.
Poor police response to these types of incidents could “legitimize” the tactic, warned Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.
“There has to be an utter condemnation of the use of violent tactics from both sides of the abortion debate. Any kind of coddling, or treating it as a normal thing would only provoke violent actions,” Brejcha told CNA on March 21.
Participants in the local 40 Days for Life prayer vigil were on the sidewalk near the All Family Health Care abortion center on March 17 around 6:15 p.m. An unidentified assailant threw a homemade incendiary device at an elderly woman, although it landed behind her.
The device, a water bottle filled with a flammable liquid, made a loud popping noise like a big firecracker and burst into flame.
Brejcha criticized the initial police reaction as “tepid” and “outrageous.”
“The officer responding to the 911 call took half an hour to get to the scene. He was very brusque and rude. When the 77-year-old lady held out her hand to greet him, he just ignored her and walked right past her,” Brejcha said.
When asked if he was going to have the residue collected as evidence, he said there wouldn’t be any fingerprints and he “just called the garbage folks to collect the debris.”
When the coordinator of the 40 Days event called the desk sergeant to complain about the officer’s “rather nonchalant response” to a “serious bombing incident,” he continued, the desk officer “pretty much said what the police officer said.”
According to Brejcha, the officer remarked that “it was reasonable that people would react this way when you’re out there protesting on a public sidewalk.”
“Of course, those reactions are just outrageous. This was a serious incident, a violent attack with a firebomb that exploded on impact and could have caused very serious impact to this lady.”
He added that those involved have received many calls from Kalispell police officers and others in the area, disagreeing “strongly” with the officers’ response.
“The reaction of these police officers should not be taken as typical,” he said.
The group intends to pursue disciplinary charges against the two officers.
“We’re not looking for a pound of flesh or anything, but it’s a very serious matter when law enforcement is unresponsive as they were in this case.”
Mary Anne Hofmann, the attacked woman, was “very startled” but is “a rather unflappable person,” Brejcha reported. “She’s going to keep on doing what she was doing.”
“There was another bombing at a Target store close to the same time. The two incidents may be related,” Brejcha surmised.
There was also an eyewitness of the attack on the woman who could help the investigation. He was not associated with the pro-life group.
Brejcha said there had been no incidents at this clinic other than a water balloon attack. He does know of other menacing incidents towards pro-life demonstrators at other clinics, but nothing involving a firebomb-like device.
The Thomas More Society is in contact with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms about the Kalispell case.
Brejcha said that the FBI and the ATF have been “very active in policing the activity of pro-lifers at abortion sites.”
“We expect them to be equally aggressive in this matter.”