Could Tiller's murder have been prevented?

The suspect in his shooting attacked a clinic just the day before.

Published June 3, 2009 11:01AM (EDT)

Here's a situation where police must be wishing for a do-over: The suspect in Dr. George Tiller's murder was caught vandalizing a clinic the day before Sunday's shooting. Scott Roeder wasn't arrested or questioned; he didn't even have a patrol car intimidatingly cruise by his house late at night. Instead, Roeder was left undisturbed while he allegedly planned his next-day attack on the Kansas doctor. This news comes on the heels of Kate Harding's excellent post about how difficult it is for abortion providers to get law enforcement to respond to harassment from pro-life groups, and it raises an important question: Could Tiller's assassination have been prevented by law enforcement?

Fifty-one-year-old Roeder, who was charged Tuesday with Tiller's murder, allegedly showed up at the Central Family Medicine clinic over the past two weekends and tried to pour epoxy into its locks. Both attacks were reported to officials, but neither warranted police action, apparently. During his final nonviolent attack early Saturday morning, a clinic worker caught him in the act and chased him away while he repeatedly called her a "baby killer." She wrote down his license plate number and clinic manager Jeffrey Pederson called the FBI to report the attack and pass along Roeder's plate number. FBI agents "told him nothing could be done with the information until a federal grand jury convened," CNN reports.

The next day, Pederson got word of Tiller's death, and the suspect's license plate number. It was the same number he had given the FBI just the day before. "I was just sick," he told the Kansas City Star.  "I called the FBI back and said, 'It's the same car. It’s the same guy.'" An FBI spokesperson told the newspaper: "When we are notified when vandalism occurs at a clinic, we look into the matter, but we’re not going to comment on anything regarding that incident."

Roeder did the same thing -- gluing the clinic's locks two weekends in a row -- in 2000, according to Pederson. "The pictures I had back then were fuzzy, and the FBI said it wasn’t sufficient to prosecute." After turning in footage of the Memorial Day weekend attack to the FBI and finding that the image was still too fuzzy, Pederson upgraded his security camera equipment on Friday, just two days before Tiller's murder. On Saturday, he told the FBI that he "had more video, and these pictures are a lot clearer." They arranged to interview his staff at a later date -- which, it turns out, was far, far too late.

This is but one more hefty piece of evidence of a nationwide failure to adequately protect licensed and law-abiding medical professionals from violent extremists. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: This domestic war on terror has to be fought.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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