Anti-abortion advocate Matthew Prewett recorded the encounter in a video posted to social media (Courtesy Matthew Prewett)

Anti-abortion advocate Matthew Prewett recorded the encounter in a video posted to social media (Courtesy Matthew Prewett)

SF police issue first citation for violating stay at home order to abortion protester

Ronald Konopaski, 86, cited outside Planned Parenthood for allegedly failing to shelter in place

The first person cited by San Francisco police for allegedly violating the public health order requiring residents to stay at home is an 86-year-old anti-abortion advocate.

Ronald Konopaski was protesting outside the Planned Parenthood clinic at 1650 Valencia St. near Bernal Heights when police cited him for a misdemeanor Thursday.

Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a police spokesperson, confirmed the citation Friday and said that officers had previously admonished Konopaski for allegedly violating the order.

Andraychak said Konopaski was distributing leaflets on the sidewalk when police warned him Wednesday, and had a chair next to him when police cited him the next day.

Konopaski is the first and only person who the San Francisco Police Department has cited for a violation of the order as of late Friday afternoon, according to Andraychak.

Until Thursday, Police Chief Bill Scott had directed his officers to focus on educating the public to remain indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

But as of Friday, Scott said officers would begin citing residents and business owners for violating the order after one warning.

“I’ll make this very clear, particularly for the business owners in our city,” Scott said at a noon press conference. “If we have to go back, we are not going to ask twice.”

In a phone call Friday evening, Konopaski said he was pacing back and forth in prayer when police cited him.

He had been at the clinic nearly every day since late February as part of a 40 Days for Life campaign to end abortion.

He confirmed that police admonished him a day before the citation, but argued that the order violated his constitutional right to free speech and religion.

“The people who are opposing my being there are just using this order as a tool to engage the police to do their dirty work to get rid of me,” Konopaski said.

While he does not call it protesting, Konopaski said he has regularly set up outside the clinic for the last decade or so to pray for its closure and offer women “other options.”

He argued that what he does is an “essential service” that should be allowed under the order, and said that he remains six feet away from others.

“I’m 86 years old and I know how to take care of my health,” he said. “I’m following the order of this health thing even though I think that is a gross overkill or overreach.”

In an email, neighbor Bryan Spearry said he is one of the people who have repeatedly called 311 on protesters outside the clinic during the crisis.

“What they are doing right now is NOT essential,” Spearry wrote. “That they are standing so close to everyone walking down that sidewalk, especially right next to a hospital and next to a [Burger King] that accepts EBT, I was concerned.”

A photo of police talking with protesters outside the Planned Parenthood clinic (Courtesy Bryan Spearry)

A photo of police talking with protesters outside the Planned Parenthood clinic (Courtesy Bryan Spearry)

Matthew Prewett is another anti-abortion advocate who was at the clinic when police cited Konopaski.

“They said that being on the sidewalk would be an issue if anybody else passed because they would have to come within six feet of us,” Prewett said.

Prewett captured the encounter on video posted to social media. He was there with Pro-Life San Francisco founder Terrisa Bukovinac.

Prewett argued that police had selectively chosen to cite Konopaski.

“I see people violating the stay away order all the time in the Panhandle park and I have never seen police respond to that,” he said.

The order prohibits people from being outdoors except for essential reasons such as grocery shopping or picking up medicine.

It also includes exemptions for certain workers as well as homeless people.

Konopaski is due in court April 27, he said. The fine he faces is expected to be determined by a judge.

He said he does not plan to return to the Planned Parenthood soon, since police threatened to arrest him if he does.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

This story has been updated to include additional information.

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