’This case is not about abortion,’ NC court rules in Charlotte abortion protester case

A Charlotte abortion clinic protester who said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police violated his First Amendment right to free speech lost the latest round in his legal fight when the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled against him Tuesday.

The panel ruled that officers had every right to arrest protester Ante Nedlko Pavkovic and that his voice over a microphone exceeded Charlotte noise ordinance limits.

“This case is not about abortion, a pro-life demonstration, or the First Amendment,” Judge Phil Berger Jr. wrote in his opinion that was included with the court ruling. “This case is about a defendant who hindered or delayed an officer in the performance of that officer’s duties.”

The case stemmed from Pavkovic’s arrest outside an abortion clinic on Latrobe Drive on May 27, 2017, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.

Police recorded “sustained readings” over 80 decibels when Pavkovic spoke through a microphone, “with occasional ‘spikes’ “up to 84 decibels, according to the ruling.

Because the levels exceeded the noise ordinance, CMPD officers wrote a citation to another man identified as the permit holder for the protest. Police told Pavkovic he was in violation, too.

Pavkovic, however, refused five requests by officers to show his identification, according to court documents. He was charged with violating the ordinance and with resisting an officer, records show.

On Sept. 5, 2018, Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Hugh Lewis found Pavkovic guilty of both offenses.

Lewis dismissed the noise violation charge after also finding that the city failed to “clearly express which enforcement penalty it would levy” against Pavkovic, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.

Lewis fined Pavkovic $200 on the resisting arrest conviction, gave him a suspended 45-day sentence and ordered him to serve two years of supervised probation.

In appealing the ruling, Pavkovic said police “had no reasonable suspicion to arrest him” and that the noise ordinance is unconstitutional, according to court records.

Public records show Pavkovic also argued that Lewis erred by:

Allowing the meter police used to measure his volume as evidence, because police failed to show the meter met national standards. The judges found that Lewis correctly allowed the meter as evidence based on police testimony the meter did meet standards.

Ordering Pavkovic to stay at least 1,500 feet from the clinic. He contended in his appeal that the order violates his First Amendment right to free speech. The appellate court ruled against him, saying in part that Pavkovic failed to raise the issue during his trial.

Failing to rule the city’s noise ordinance unconstitutional in that it gives CMPD “unbridled discretion” to grant or deny permits. The appellate judges ruled against Pavkovic, saying he’d also failed to raise that argument during trial.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.