Activists affiliated with animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, are facing felony and misdemeanor charges for allegedly trespassing on the land of farms in Petaluma, California and removing several chickens and ducks from the facilities. Their trial will begin Sept. 8 at the Santa Rosa Courthouse.
According to court documents, on or about May 29, 2018, defendants Wayne Hsiung, a former Berkeley mayoral candidate, Cassandra King and Priya Sawhney allegedly assembled at Sunrise Farms with several other individuals and entered the property, wearing Tyvek suits in order to go into biosecure areas housing chickens. The document notes that they were asked to leave by a “peace officer” and allegedly did not comply.
DxE press coordinator Alison Morikawa Barnard said the activists “rescued” 37 chickens and 32 ducks from two farms and provided the animals with medical care. Barnard said they chose to go to the farms only after repeatedly contacting the authorities with whistleblower accounts of animal cruelty on the facilities and receiving no response.
“Activists gathered peacefully holding flowers and singing songs,” King said in an email. “Animal rescuers removed these sick chickens, walking right past police with the birds in their arms, and transported them to receive veterinary care. Only later did police decide to arrest activists. I was one of 40 people who were arrested and taken to jail.”
King is facing misdemeanor charges, while Hsiung and Sawnhney are facing felony charges. King said her charges were reduced at a preliminary hearing earlier this year because the judge believed her involvement in the demonstrations was less significant based on livestreams of the event.
Hsiung noted that criminal animal cruelty includes acts resulting in unnecessary suffering or harm to animals. DxE investigators found “extensive evidence” of animal cruelty law violations in facilities such as Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm, according to Hsiung.
The group is also accused of trespassing on Reichardt Duck Farm and entering one of their barns, as well as locking themselves to fixtures in the farm and thus disrupting operations. According to King, only Hsiung was arrested for that demonstration.
Reichardt Duck Farm and Sunrise Farms declined to comment.
Animal rights activists — including DxE members — have won similar trials in St. George, Utah and Merced, California, according to King, who noted that Hsiung was also a defendant in the St. George trial.
“I cried tears of joy both times I heard the ‘not guilty’ verdicts,” King said in an email. “I was so happy for my friends, who are such compassionate people, and for the animals we are working to protect from abuse.”
These legal wins could “open the floodgates” for animals to be considered persons under the law rather than property, Barnard said. Hsiung noted that this could lead “animal abusing facilities” to transition away from animal agriculture and towards more plant based products, as some farms have already been doing.
Upon receiving the trespassing and burglary charges, DxE requested the legal opinion of University of California College of the Law, San Francisco professor Hadar Aviram on their case, sending her videos they recorded on the facilities.
“An open rescuer who removes sick animals from this facility should be able to successfully argue for a necessity defense against any charges of trespass or misappropriation,” Aviram wrote in a legal opinion. “In addition, a feeder who provides for animals in this facility would be protected from criminal responsibility.”
Aviram noted in the opinion that trespassing was the only way for activists to assist these animals because all factory farm animals are kept on private property. She added that the animals could be considered “domestic animals,” which are afforded certain protections under the law.