Kansas lawmaker to defend himself against battery charge in confrontation with protestor

The Associated Press

The state lawmaker who pulled a mask off a cockroach-costumed abortion protester at the Kansas State Fair is preparing to defend himself against a misdemeanor battery charge.

Rep. Vaughn Flora, D-Topeka, faces a pretrial hearing Dec. 19 in Reno County for coming in contact with Troy Newman, president of Wichita’s Operation Rescue.

The incident occurred as Newman and a colleague, also dressed as a cockroach, paraded through an audience of 2,000 people during a debate between Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and her Republican challenger, Sen. Jim Barnett of Emporia.

Newman said their objective was to express a belief that Sebelius didn’t do enough to make certain that abortion clinics maintained sanitary conditions.

Flora, who was wearing a Sebelius shirt, stepped forward and yanked the mask from Newman’s head. There was nothing more to the dust-up, but Newman complained he suffered a small cut.

Reno County prosecutors responded by filing the charge against Flora.

“We’re not really out for blood,” Cheryl Sullenger, outreach coordinator for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said Friday in an interview. “There’s a way to behave in public. If you don’t agree with our speech you can’t just attack someone.”

Sullenger said an apology from Flora was in order and that the whole episode should be put to rest as quickly as possible.

Flora, facing a maximum of less than one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted, said he’s not taking the situation lightly.

“I am kind of worried about it,” he said.

In the criminal complaint filed in Reno County, Flora is alleged to have made physical contact with Newman in a “rude, insulting and angry manner.”

Flora, who won re-election in November, described the cockroach protest as “outrageous.”

Sullenger said there was no question that Flora removed the headgear from Newman. Operation Rescue has videotape and photographs of Flora at the moment he exposed Newman at the debate, she said.

She said a question to be resolved in court is whether Flora’s action rises to the level of a crime, and, if so, what punishment is appropriate.

Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal, www.cjonline.com.