An anti-abortion activist with a history of running into trouble for his graphic signs is now facing criminal charges for trespassing at a Roman Catholic church in San Mateo.
Ross Foti, 72, appeared in court Thursday as his attorney, Cyrus Johnson, attempted to get the two misdemeanor charges of trespassing dismissed. The hearing was continued until Feb. 1 after prosecutors asked for time to respond to the motions.
Foti, who drives a truck affixed with large signs depicting aborted fetuses, was sent a letter by a priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church on Sept. 24 that he was not allowed on church grounds.
Father Anthony Maguire said the letter was a culmination of a long conflict between Foti and parents at the church school who said the bloody images were giving their children nightmares.
On Thursday, Foti admitted he came to church three times after he received the letter. The third time, on Nov. 13, he was taken away in handcuffs.
Foti could face two years in jail and a $2,000 fine if convicted on the charges, though prosecutors concede they are unlikely to seek the maximum penalty.
The activist said he feels betrayed by the pro-life church, which he has attended for 18 years. Foti said that shortly before his arrest, he was negotiating with Maguire to cover some of the signs and not attend Mass on days that children are present.
Maguire disagrees, saying Foti would agree to the church’s conditions, and then break the agreement.
"There was no way to dialogue with him in a reasonable manner," Maguire said. "The parents clearly stated to him that this was hurtful to their children," he said.
Foti, who regularly protests outside the Planned Parenthood offices in San Mateo, said he has a First Amendment right to express his views through the signs on his truck. He added that he came to St. Matthew to worship, not to protest.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Foti’s reasoning doesn’t wash.
"They didn’t want him on church property," Wagstaffe said."It’s no different than if someone comes into your backyard and you don’t want them there. It doesn’t matter what their purpose was, they’re trespassing."
Foti said he has seen no proof that his signs damage anyone psychologically and compared them to documentaries about the Holocaust.
"The images show the evilness of the act," he said.