In a rare public disclosure, the Philadelphia FBI office is pushing back against widely circulated claims alleging the agency used excessive force in its arrest of a Bucks County anti-abortion activist, who is accused of twice assaulting an elderly clinic escort.
In a statement issued Monday, the FBI office denied claims that two dozen armed agents entered the Kintnersville home of Mark Houck, 48, and pointed guns at his wife and seven children on Friday morning when he was taken into custody.
“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement read.
Houck faces two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act, which makes it a federal crime to use force with intent to injure, intimidate or interfere with someone providing reproductive health care. He is free on unsecured bail, meaning he did not have to post cash.
Federal authorities allege Houck shoved to the ground a 72-year-old volunteer escort, identified by the initials “B.L.,” as he was escorting two patients leaving the clinic. In the second incident, Houck allegedly verbally confronted “B.L.” and shoved him to the ground causing injuries that required medical attention.
Both incidents took place on Oct. 13, 2021 outside the Elizabeth Blackwell Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia. If convicted, Houck faces a maximum possible sentence of 11 years in federal prison, three years of supervised probation and $350,000 in fines.
In its statement Monday, the FBI refuted the family’s allegations that SWAT team members or operators were involved in the arrest, and claimed FBI agents knocked on Houck's front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence.
“He did so and was taken into custody without incident,” the statement said.
The FBI version of events surrounding the arrest is a stark contrast to those made by Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, and other family supporters in anti-abortion and Catholic news outlets and media statements.
They have alleged that a “heavily armed” “SWAT team” nearly broke down the family’s front door and at least five agents pointed guns at Houck’s head and arrested him in front of his family.
This news organization was unsuccessful Monday in reaching Houck or his attorney for comment after leaving emails and voice messages.
Houck is the founder and co-president of The King’s Men, a Catholic men’s ministry and he is a vocal anti-pornography and anti-abortion activist in the Philadelphia region. He has reportedly been a regular anti-abortion protestor and sidewalk counselor outside the Blackwell Planned Parenthood for 20 years.
Anti-abortion supporters have used Houck's arrest to accuse the Biden Administration of exhibiting “unnecessary show of potential deadly force” in an attempt to intimidate antiabortion supporters.
More on arrest of Mark HouckMastriano says FBI arrest of Bucks County man for alleged assault at Planned Parenthood 'an abuse of power'
GOP Pennsylvania governor candidate Doug Mastriano on Saturday released a statement supporting Houck and blasting the FBI and Biden Administration for alleged “abuse of power.”
In a statement Monday, Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, said that Houck’s actions do not fall under the FACE Act, and the Department of Justice was told in June that if it pursued charges against Houck, he would voluntarily appear for arraignment.
The Thomas More Society, which describes itself as a nonprofit law firm dedicated to restoring “respect in law for life, family religious liberty and election integrity,” is representing Houck in the federal case.
Breen contends that a U.S. Eastern District Court case in 2019 established that a “one-on-one” altercation like the one Houck is accused of cannot form the basis for a FACE claim. The 2019 case involved an Allentown Women’s Center abortion clinic that accused an antiabortion activist of physically obstructing access to the clinic as well as “threatening, harassing, and insulting employees” in a lawsuit.
Since his arrest, the family has raised more than $185,000 through an online fundraising campaign, which contends that Houck was protecting his 12-year-old son when he pushed the escort who was following his son and yelling vulgar language. It also alleges the altercation was captured on video.
The website did not mention the other alleged incident where Houck pushed the man while he was escorting patients out of the clinic, as federal authorities alleged.
A family spokesman alleges that “B.L.” filed a private criminal complaint against Houck after police and the district attorney declined to pursue criminal charges, according to a Catholic News Agency story. The spokesman said the complaint was dismissed in July after the escort repeatedly failed to appear in court.
Philadelphia Municipal Court records show a man with the initial “B.L.” filed a private criminal complaint against Houck in October 2021 and the complaint is listed as disposed. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office confirmed Monday that the office did approve a private criminal complaint against Houck earlier this year.
"But the case was disposed of locally so the DOJ could assume and lead the investigation," DA spokeswoman Jane Roh said. "It is incorrect to say that we declined this case."
The Houck spokesman reportedly said that after the private complaint was disposed, the U.S. The Attorney's Office notified Houck in writing that he was the focus of a federal criminal probe into the same incident.
Houck’s attorney tried to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the allegations but did not receive a response, the spokesman said.
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This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: FBI denies it used excessive force in anti-abortion arrest in Bucks County