Woo Testifies at Trial of Anti-Abortion Activists

Times Staff Writer

Defense attorneys in the trespass and conspiracy trial of five anti-abortion activists called Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo to the stand Monday, hoping his testimony would show that police were under political pressure to arrest and brutalize participants in an abortion clinic protest five months ago.

Woo, testifying before a packed courtroom for more than an hour, admitted that he had met with Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and authored a council motion urging strict enforcement of city ordinances during a March 25 sit-in by members of the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue.

But Woo, who attended the demonstration, said his intentions were merely to see the law upheld, not to see people injured.

"My job as a councilman is to make sure laws of the city are enforced, and I feel that I did that in connection with the demonstrations that were held here earlier this year," said Woo, adding that he had not seen police use excessive force.

If he had, Woo testified, "I would talk to the officers in charge."

Woo's day on the stand started the third week of the trial of five leaders of Operation Rescue, including its founder, Randall Terry. Terry, 30, and co-defendants Michael McMonagle, 36, and Jeff White, 31, are defending themselves against misdemeanor charges stemming from a demonstration staged at a woman's clinic on Westmoreland Avenue. Andrew Eppink, 41, and Donald Bennette, 36, are being represented by attorneys.

The defense contends that police were ordered to make arrests even before any crimes had been committed and that protesters were defending themselves against police brutality rather than resisting the officers.

"The police had a preformulated plan to go out and use excessive force and the police were motivated by political pressure," defense attorney Douglas E. McCann said outside of the courtroom.

The defense, in contending that pressure was placed on police, cited a motion that Woo introduced to the City Council last October, urging that the law be "vigorously enforced" during the Operation Rescue demonstrations.

"You either enforce the law or you don't," attorney Cyrus Zal said after the court session. "When you say 'vigorously,' it means 'we'll pay the lawsuits. You go out and beat these people up.' That's what it means to me."

Woo testified that he and Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky had met with Gates before the protest to discuss the Police Department's law enforcement policies at Operation Rescue demonstrations. And when asked by Zal if he had attended any other demonstrations this year, or authored motions requesting rigid law enforcement at protests by groups other than Operation Rescue, the councilman answered no.

However, Woo said "it is not unusual for me to have communication with the Police Department in special cases," citing a recent request he made for protection of Chinese democracy leaders who were visiting Los Angeles.

And, Woo added, "if the leaders of the democracy movement were seeking to close down streets or prevent the lawful right of persons to enter into health clinics . . . it would have been appropriate for police to enforce the law at such demonstrations also."

The trial has been peppered with religious outbursts, not-so-subtle morality lectures, and more than one threat warning the defendants they would be held in contempt of court.

Woo will resume his testimony this morning.

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