The private criminal complaint filed by abortion escort Bruce Love and obtained by The Federalist conflicts with the allegations contained in the federal indictment returned against pro-life sidewalk counselor Mark Houck. That fact and an email exchange between Houck’s lawyer and the U.S. attorney’s office raises significant questions about the Biden administration’s decision to charge Houck with purported violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or “FACE Act,” and further calls into question the FBI’s excessive show of force when arresting Houck.
Amid Americans’ growing distrust of the FBI, the agency further damaged its reputation when, not quite two weeks ago, some 15 police vehicles and about 20 law enforcement officers, including many with ballistic shields, long guns, and a battering ram at the ready, descended on Houck’s home. While the FBI disputed the precise number of agents who swarmed Houck’s property and stressed that the officers brandishing the long guns and carrying ballistic shields were not a “SWAT Team” or “SWAT operators,” the FBI’s overwhelming show of force to arrest the father of seven for allegedly violating the FACE Act brought swift condemnation.
The scandal intensified after a dozen Republican senators revealed in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray that Houck’s attorney, Thomas More Society lawyer Matt Heffron, had informed the Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Eve that he would accept the summons on Houck’s behalf and that Houck would appear voluntarily. A copy of the email exchange between Heffron and Eve obtained Monday by The Federalist proves even more damning than the senators’ letter to Wray suggests, for two reasons.
First, Heffron’s email to Eve, in which he noted he would “accept a summons on my client’s behalf, rather put Mr. Houck and his family through needless disruption,” was dated June 9, 2022, but Eve’s sole response to that email came on Sept. 23, 2022 — when Eve wrote Heffron to inform him that “this morning, [Houck] was taken into custody by FBI agents and is being transported to the Philadelphia FBI office for processing.” So the first response Houck’s attorney received from the U.S. attorney’s office, following two phone calls and an email, came more than three months later to advise him that his client had already been arrested.
The letter from Houck’s lawyer to Eve also revealed serious problems in the government’s case against Houck, with the Thomas More Society attorney quoting at length a case from the same judicial district that involved nearly identical facts to those involved in the Houck/Love incident. In that case, the court held that a FACE Act claim could not succeed because there was no evidence that force was used “because” the escort was providing so-called reproductive health services. Instead, the force resulted from a “mutual argument” between the individuals. Stressing these legal principles, Heffron concluded his letter by suggesting that, particularly under the circumstances of the case, it “should not go forward.”
While the charging decision was clearly the U.S. attorney’s office’s call, Heffron’s legal analysis is sound and the government’s case against Houck is extremely weak — so much so that dismissal of the charges pre-trial would likely be appropriate. The weakness of the government’s case adds to the outrage over Eve ignoring Heffron’s email and his offer to accept the summons on behalf of Houck and instead using the FBI to descend unanswered at Houck’s home with tactical gear fitting for the arrest of a gang member or murder suspect.
This extreme show of force parallels the description an FBI whistleblower has made of the arrests of some of the Jan. 6 defendants. Interestingly, a docket search shows that Eve appears to have handled some 40 Jan. 6 cases, leaving one to question whether the federal prosecutor held any role in pushing for the combative arrests of Jan. 6 defendants.
Further questions arise over the Department of Justice’s decision to prosecute Houck given conflicts between the federal indictment and Love’s summary of his encounter with Houck in the private criminal complaint he filed in Philadelphia.
In the indictment, the DOJ alleged two claims under the FACE Act. The first count alleged that on Oct. 13, 2021, Houck shoved Love to the ground as he “attempted to escort two [Planned Parenthood patients.]” (The indictment references Bruce Love as “B.L.” throughout, but his name appears in a search of the Philadelphia court records.) The second count alleged that on Oct. 13, 2021, Houck “verbally confronted” B.L. and then “forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground in front of the [Planned Parenthood facility], causing injuries to B.L. that required medical attention.”
But in a copy of the private criminal complaint Love filed against Houck, he described only one incident and made no mention of attempting to escort Planned Parenthood patients. According to his complaint, Houck “was standing on the corner and [Love] was standing a few feet away from [Houck] waiting for clients. [Houck] stated to [Love] to stay away from him and that he will push [Love] into the street. As [Love] was walking away from [Houck], [Love] states [Houck] pushed [Love] causing him to fall to the ground.” The complaint then notes that Love notified the police and sought medical treatment a few days later.
The state court dismissed Love’s private criminal complaint after he failed to show up for a required hearing, only to have the Department of Justice take up the case. But as a matter of law, the facts of the private criminal complaint sworn out by Love do not constitute a violation of the FACE Act because Houck was standing at a corner away from the abortion facility, no clients were involved, and the alleged assault had nothing to do with so-called reproductive services. And that conclusion flows from Love’s version of the facts, ignoring Houck’s allegation that Love was harassing his 12-year-old son.
Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, told The Federalist that Houck is innocent of the charges and that Love was the aggressor, approaching Houck and his son. In addition to Love being the aggressor, the allegations in Count 1 are also “absolutely false,” Breen told The Federalist.
Given that in the private state criminal complaint Love filed, he made no mention of the facts alleged in Count 1 of the federal indictment and instead claimed he was pushed while “waiting” for clients, the DOJ’s decision to charge Houck is beyond baffling — absent a desire to intimidate pro-lifer protesters, innocent or not. And that was precisely the purpose the fleet of FBI agents descending on Houck’s home served as well.
Conservatives got the message, and their concern for the safety of their children will lead fewer to pray, protest, or provide help outside abortion facilities. And that message will last longer than the public’s outrage, which is exactly what the Biden administration counted on.