November 28, 2015 / 9:34 AM / 2 years ago

Suspect in Colorado clinic shooting had past brushes with the law

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The 57-year-old man with a bushy white beard who is suspected of killing three people in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado has a history of brushes with the law, including a “peeping Tom” complaint in his home state of South Carolina.

Robert L. Dear is seen in an undated picture released by the Colorado Springs (Colorado) Police Department November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Colorado Springs Police Department/Handout via Reuters

Robert Lewis Dear, named as the suspect in the Friday shooting in Colorado Springs, was in jail on Saturday awaiting an initial hearing on Monday, police and jail records showed. Police have not discussed a motive for the attack at the clinic, which offers a range of health services, including abortions.

Those killed were a police officer and two civilians, and nine people were wounded. After a standoff lasting several hours, the suspect surrendered to law enforcement officers, authorities said.

The shooting was believed to be the first fatal attack at an abortion provider in the United States in six years, although it was not known if the attack was related to the clinic’s abortion services. The Colorado Springs center has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.

It was not immediately clear if Dear had retained an attorney.

An online court record search in South Carolina did not immediately show records of any criminal convictions for Dear, but law enforcement officers were called in on several occasions after complaints about him.

He was born in South Carolina and lived in Walterboro during the 1990s and early 2000s. He was married in 1995 to Pam Dear and records of his contact with sheriff’s deputies show he had a son, Taylor Dear.

According to incident reports provided by the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, Dear’s wife called police and accused him of assaulting her in 1997 at their home. She said he pushed her and shoved her to the floor, but declined to file charges, according to the sheriff deputy’s report.

In 2002 he was accused by a neighbor of shooting the neighbor’s dog with a pellet gun, and that same year he was arrested on accusation of hiding in the bushes at his neighbor’s house and leering her and making unwanted advances.

Court records show he was charged with peeping to invade someone’s privacy in that case, but the charge was dismissed by a judge and a restraining order was issued against him.

The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office also said he was arrested for animal cruelty in 2003 but no court record was available online for that case.

Dear, who most recently was living in the small community of Hartsel, Colorado, about 60 miles (100 km) west of Colorado Springs, had moved there from the rural Swannanoa-Black Mountain area of western North Carolina.

Records showed that Dear purchased an isolated property in rural Hartsel for $6,000 in October of 2014.

Dear was still living in Swannanoa in July 2014, according to the Buncombe County Sheriffs Office, which said he was issued a civil citation at that time for allowing his dogs to run at large. Court records in North Carolina were not searchable online.

Friday’s attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings around the country that have galvanized supporters of tighter gun control. It is a polarizing issue in the United States, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution.

Expressing frustration, President Barack Obama said the United States needs to make it harder for criminals and the mentally unstable to get guns, a theme that he has sounded repeatedly.

“We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough,” Obama said in a statement on Saturday.

The nine people wounded on Friday - five police officers and four civilians - were listed in good condition at area hospitals.

POLICEMAN WAS A FORMER FIGURE SKATER

The dead policeman was Garrett Swasey, 44, a campus police officer for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who joined city police in responding to the first reports of shots fired, authorities said. The dead civilians were not named.

Swasey, married and the father of two young children, was a former figure skater who served as an elder at Hope Chapel, the Colorado Springs church said on its website.

Planned Parenthood in recent years moved its Colorado Springs clinic to new quarters on the city’s northwest side - a facility that opponents of abortion had called a “fortress.”

“We don’t yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack,” said Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, after the shooting.

However, she suggested a climate of rancor surrounding abortion had set the stage for such violence. “We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country,” she said in a statement.

The national non-profit group, devoted to providing a range of reproductive health services, including abortions, has come under renewed pressure this year from conservatives in Congress seeking to cut off federal funding for the organization.

At least eight workers at clinics providing abortions have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation - most recently in 2009, when doctor George Tiller was shot to death at church in Wichita, Kansas.

Clinics have reported nearly 7,000 incidents of trespassing, vandalism, arson, death threats, and other forms of violence since then, according to the federation.

As in much of the rest of the country, abortion is a divisive issue in Colorado. Colorado Springs is a hub for conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family that oppose abortion.

Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Daniel Wallis in Denver, Frank McGurty in New York, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Frances Kerry

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