Animal Activist & Attorney Wayne Hsiung Sentenced To Three Months In Jail For Rescuing Sick Animals From Factory Farms

UPDATE – Co-founder of the international animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), Wayne Hsiung, was just sentenced to three months in jail in Sonoma County, California, followed by two years of probation. Judge Laura Passaglia also ordered that Wayne have no contact with the other named “co-conspirators” including several of his closest friends.

After the sentencing, Wayne was taken straight from the courtroom back to the jail where he has been since November 2nd, when he was convicted of one count of felony conspiracy and two counts of misdemeanor trespass for his involvement in nonviolent animal rescues at Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm.

Wayne and other DxE activists took action to aid animals directly as a last resort after county authorities ignored repeated reports of criminal animal cruelty at these factory farms. Despite continued reports, including new evidence of neglected, injured, and dying animals, the authorities will still not intervene.

We need your help to call on the Sonoma County District Attorney to prosecute criminal animal cruelty at Sunrise and Reichardt Farms and help the suffering animals.

Please Take Action HERE! 

NOVEMBER 3rd – After an eight-week trial, including six days of jury deliberation, animal rights activist and attorney Wayne Hsiung was found guilty of one felony conspiracy and two misdemeanor trespassing charges for his involvement in nonviolent open rescues of animals on factory farms in Sonoma County, California.

The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the felony conspiracy charge from the action at Reichardt Duck Farm, resulting in a “hung jury” mistrial on that charge. Hsiung was cuffed and taken immediately into custody where he will be held until his sentencing hearing on November 30th. Activists will be mobilizing around that hearing.

Hsiung is the co-founder of the international animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which is leading a campaign to enshrine the legal “Right to Rescue” sick and injured animals from commercial operations. Hsiung’s conviction follows two groundbreaking acquittals in other open rescue cases.

Last year, Hsiung was acquitted of felony burglary and theft for rescuing a sick piglet in St. George, Utah. Earlier this year, he successfully led the legal defense for another DxE animal rescuer who was acquitted of theft in Merced, California.

Hsiung plans to appeal the conviction in Sonoma County based on several rulings by Judge Laura Passaglia that constitute prejudicial and reversible error, including the exclusion of almost all photo and video evidence showing animal cruelty at the factory farms where the rescues occurred.

“Activists have won and will continue to win cases based on a legal right to rescue animals from abuse,” said law professor and civil rights attorney Justin Marceau. “No legal strategy ever works 100% of the time, but this conviction is less of a setback than an opportunity to litigate the legal status of animals in the appellate court and in the court of public opinion.”

In Sonoma County, over 100 people affiliated with DxE were arrested on felony charges for their part in nonviolent demonstrations where activists provided emergency medical aid to sick and injured animals at Sunrise Farms (a Whole Foods and Costco egg supplier), Petaluma Poultry (a subsidiary of poultry giant Perdue), and Reichardt Duck Farm (a major duck meat supplier). In total, 38 chickens and 32 ducks were rescued from the facilities by the activists. This came after county and state authorities ignored repeated reports of criminal animal abuse at these facilities.

The mass open rescue at Sunrise Farms was prompted by investigations that occurred in 2016 through 2018, which found that despite Proposition 2 banning intensive confinement of animals on factory farms, Sunrise was confining tens of thousands of birds in towering 15-foot tall rows of tightly packed cages, inside of which many birds were sick, dying, and dead. Investigators also found violations of California’s animal cruelty statute, Penal Code 597, including injured birds who were unable to access food or water.

On the day of the Sunrise action in May 2018, Sergeant Dave Thompson promised Hsiung that they could walk through the farm together to provide aid and remove any sick or injured birds. However, no inspection ever occurred, and body camera footage shown in court depicted the officers admitting to merely “checking a box” instead of taking the activists’ animal cruelty concerns seriously.

At Reichardt Duck Farm, investigations by Mercy for Animals in 2014 and by DxE in 2019 revealed systemic violations of animal cruelty law, including diseased ducks stuck on their backs, unable to get up, and consequently unable to reach food or water. Zoe Rosenberg, a defense witness and DxE investigator, testified that she collected deceased ducks from the facility and sent them for necropsy tests that revealed a fatal disease was spreading in the facility, though she was prohibited by the court from telling the jury the name of the disease or describing it.

Hsiung attempted to bring two key defenses in the case: a defense to trespass under Penal Code 597e, and the defense of necessity based on the activists’ right to aid animals who were being subjected to criminal animal cruelty. Judge Laura Passaglia prohibited Hsiung from arguing either defense before the jury, and only permitted him to discuss 597e in the context of a “mistake of law” defense, pursuant to which Hsiung argued that he had a good faith belief that his actions were legal.

The defense called a total of 13 witnesses including Hsiung, other participants at the Sunrise and Reichardt actions, legal scholar and professor Hadar Aviram, and expert veterinarian Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg. Every witness who participated in the actions testified about their good faith belief in the legal right to enter private property to aid animals, based on legal opinions they reviewed from Professor Hadar Aviram and former federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper

Throughout the trial, Hsiung encountered numerous judicial obstacles, including a gag order barring him from speaking with the media about the case. Judge Passaglia did not respond to the ACLU’s urging that she should withdraw the order based on its violation of Hsiung’s First Amendment rights. Although prosecution witnesses repeatedly testified that the treatment of the animals at their facilities is humane, Judge Passaglia prohibited the defense from showing the jury photo and video evidence of animal cruelty that disproved these testimonies, except on a few limited occasions for direct impeachment.

Michael Weber, co-owner of Sunrise testified that, “There were no sick and injured animals on the ranch in any of the buildings.” He likened the chances of finding a sick or injured chicken at the facility to the chances of finding a polar bear there. However, challenging Weber’s claim, Hsiung presented a video taken eleven days prior to the action showing a hen with an eye tumor, struggling to walk or reach food, which resulted from overcrowding-induced pecking at the facility. Weber also described the chickens’ environment as “stress-free” and “humane,” but during cross-examination, he admitted that birds regularly cannibalize each other due to stress and disease.

By appealing the guilty verdict, Hsiung has the chance to establish case law in the appellate court. Such a precedent would not only vindicate his actions, but also provide a stronger legal foundation for the defense of animals in future cases. “While this verdict presents a short-term challenge, it also marks a critical step on the journey to strengthen legal rights for animals,” says DxE lead organizer and former defendant, Almira Tanner.

During the five-year prosecution of Hsiung and other activists, and even during the trial itself, DxE investigators continued to document animal cruelty at Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm and to rescue individuals in need of emergency medical care from both facilities. After the verdict was announced, DxE activists went straight from the courtroom to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to once again report criminal animal cruelty at factory farms in the county. They delivered a letter with their findings, including photos taken at the two facilities in recent weeks. The letter also included 2021 hidden-camera footage showing Sunrise employees killing birds by breaking their necks, despite company owner Michael Weber’s testimony in the trial that they don’t use this kill method known as cervical dislocation. DxE’s new footage at Reichardt shows that four years after their action and nine years after MFA first exposed the company’s cruelty, many ducks are still stuck on their backs unable to stand or access food and water.

The best way that we can show our support for Wayne and help end the suffering of animals is by going vegan!

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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