DA plans no charges on abortion records shredding

By John Hanna

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 4:19 p.m. MST

TOPEKA, Kan. — An outside investigation has determined that the Kansas attorney general's office didn't shred documents from a Planned Parenthood clinic when it destroyed abortion records in April 2009, contradicting another prosecutor's statements that had prompted the dismissal of some criminal charges against the clinic.

None of the destroyed documents was "connected in any way" with Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at its clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said Friday. The attorney general's office asked the Shawnee County sheriff's office to investigate the shredding and turn its findings over to Taylor.

The request came after another prosecutor, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, told a judge last fall that the attorney general's office shredded documents it had from Planned Parenthood, hindering the prosecution of its clinic. In November, the judge dismissed 49 of 107 charges against the clinic, including the most serious ones accusing it of falsifying reports to the state on abortions it performed in 2003.

Boxes of documents were destroyed by the attorney general's office in April 2009, but Taylor said they were all part of files involving the unsuccessful — and closed — prosecution of another abortion provider, the late Dr. George Tiller of Wichita. Taylor said he won't file criminal charges over the shredding, which he said occurred "in the same fashion" as it would have for any case resulting in a not-guilty verdict.

Taylor wouldn't comment about Howe's past statements, but the findings Taylor released are at odds with what Howe said in court about the Planned Parenthood records.

Howe did not return telephone messages seeking comment Friday. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who sought the outside investigation because the shredding occurred under his predecessor, said only that he appreciated investigators' work.

Abortion opponents had seen Howe's statements and the dismissal of some charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic as evidence of attempts by state officials who support abortion rights to protect providers. Planned Parenthood officals, who insist the clinic did not break the law, also have expressed confidence that state officials committed no wrongdoing and said it's grossly unfair to suggest a conspiracy.

"I am appalled that we have been subjected to these types of allegations without a shred of evidence," said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing the clinic. "I don't know why it happened, but I can tell you it was wrong. I can tell you it was harmful. I can tell you it added to the horrific anger that's out there on this issue."

The Associated Press has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for a full copy of the report forwarded from Taylor to the attorney general's office.

Taylor did not discuss the exact status of the Planned Parenthood documents at issue in the criminal case, which has a hearing scheduled March 29 in Johnson County District Court. Taylor said the investigation — conducted by Shawnee County sheriff's detectives — focused on the shredding in April 2009 and the actions of employees in the attorney general's office.

Irigonegaray said the documents that Howe said were destroyed still existed and were held by the attorney general's office as of last fall, when he was allowed to examine boxes of abortion-related documents and inventory them with a member of the attorney general's and Johnson County district attorney's staff. Irigonegaray said he has not talked publicly about it until now to avoid interfering with the investigation of the shredding.

Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, acknowledged being surprised by Taylor's statements because they appeared to contradict Howe's statements. But she said Taylor's statements show, "there's some kind of funny business going on."

"That investigation was supposed to clarify things, and it did anything but," she said. "Right now, we're more confused than ever."

Some critics said politics is involved. Taylor is a Democrat, and the shredding occurred during the administration of Democratic Attorney General Steve Six, who was defeated by Schmidt, a Republican, in 2010. Howe also is a Republican, as is Phill Kline, the former Johnson County district attorney who filed the charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic in October 2007.

In 2005, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment destroyed its copies of Planned Parenthood's reports on abortions from 2003 — along with reports on hundreds of other abortions that year. The attorney general's office had its own set, and the Johnson County district attorney's office had what Howe described as partial copies.

The dismissed charges alleged that Planned Parenthood failed to maintain its copies of the reports, then produced falsified versions when compelled to do so by a judge in 2006, during an ongoing investigation of abortion providers by the attorney general's office.

In 2006, the attorney general's office was held by Kline, a strong abortion opponent. Kline lost his race for re-election as attorney general that year, then became Johnson County district attorney. Howe defeated Kline in the 2008 Republican primary.

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