An anti-abortion protester was arrested Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and assault after an altercation with an 82-year-old volunteer at the Women’s Health Center, in Charleston, last week.
Christopher McComas, 51, of St. Albans, allegedly harassed Marilyn McGeorge last Thursday when she was unknowingly standing in front of his cooler, according to the complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
McComas had been yelling in a “boisterous tone” in the direction of the clinic and the volunteers. McGeorge, who was wearing headphones to block out the sound of the protesters, was standing beside a wall upon which McComas had placed his personal cooler.
McComas allegedly said something to the effect of, “This lady is in front of my cooler,” and quickly moved in McGeorge’s direction, according to the complaint.
McGeorge, who weighs approximately 120 pounds, then lowered an umbrella she had been using to block the sun from her eyes between herself and McComas, who weighs approximately 250 pounds. McGeorge said in the complaint that she “felt in fear for her personal safety.”
McGeorge told McComas to get away from her, but he continued moving in her direction with enough force to break the umbrella. It was only after the umbrella broke and McComas took a step back that McGeorge realized the cooler was behind her, according to the complaint.
Conflict with protesters has been an ongoing problem at the clinic. Between January and May, Charleston police were called to the center 46 times, according to a call log the Gazette-Mail obtained through a public records request.
Fearing rising tensions between protesters and patients, volunteers and clinic workers could boil over into violence, Charleston City Council passed an ordinance in early June prohibiting protesters from blocking the entrance or exit of a health care facility and from approaching a person or providing pamphlets or advice without their consent.
McComas wasn’t in violation of that ordinance, according to a Charleston police spokesperson.
Even after the ordinance passed, protesters continue to gather near the clinic, and Executive Director Sharon Lewis said in a previous interview with the Gazette-Mail she can hear protesters while inside her office. She also said patients can hear them while they’re being seen for their appointments. Several people who live near the clinic have registered noise complaints, as well.
One of those residents is Betty Stemple, who lives across the street from the clinic. She said she hears the protesters every Wednesday and Thursday starting at 9 a.m.
“Everyone has a right to their opinion, but why should he make it my business when he’s screaming and yelling at the girls coming in?” Stemple said Thursday.
A video of Wednesday’s arrest, posted to Facebook by a clinic volunteer, shows McComas being handcuffed. He looked at the camera and said: “It’s all for Jesus.”
Officials with the City of Charleston declined to comment for this story, citing an ongoing investigation. Charleston Police Department officials declined to comment, as well.