Jury Finds Actress Alexandra Paul & Alicia Santurio ‘Not Guilty’ For Rescuing Two Sick Chickens From A Foster Farms Slaughterhouse

Photo by: Rachel Ziegler for Direct Action Everywhere

Last week, two factory farm investigators, actress Alexandra Paul and Alicia Santurio were acquitted of misdemeanor theft charges by a 12-person jury in Merced, California. The charges stemmed from a September 2021 rescue of two sick chickens from a transport truck that was heading into a Livingston slaughterhouse owned by Foster Farms, the largest poultry producer on the West Coast. Santurio and Paul are members of the international animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which is leading a campaign to establish the legal “Right to Rescue” animals from abuse.

“The verdict represents an important, legal affirmation of the right to rescue farmed animals who are suffering, diseased, or otherwise in danger of an inhumane death,” said law professor and civil rights attorney Justin Marceau. “Commonsense and basic decency dictate that when another being is suffering, we should provide aid or care for them when we are able to do so.”

Last year, an Utah jury issued a groundbreaking “not guilty” verdict for two DxE investigators who rescued sick piglets from a Smithfield factory pig farm. The Merced case marks the second acquittal for open rescue activists in what DxE says could be a series of legal wins that opens the floodgates to a new view of animals under the law.

“This is how we shape history, by using our privileges to confront unjust industries that exploit animals,” said Alexandra Paul.

The rescue at Foster Farms occurred on the same day DxE released hidden camera footage filmed inside the Livingston slaughterhouse. The video shows chickens being moved along an automated assembly line, routinely missing the stun bath and a device designed to cut their necks, leaving it to workers to identify conscious birds before their evisceration, at a speed of 140 shackles a minute. DxE says the conduct constitutes a violation of company policy, its American Humane animal welfare certification, and California animal cruelty laws, but that state and local authorities have ignored DxE’s formal complaints against Foster Farms.

The video of the rescue was published online within an hour of it happening. Both defendants took the stand at trial to speak openly about why they rescued these chickens, who they named Ethan and Jax. Santurio testified about “animal cruelty and neglect” she has seen inside Foster Farms during investigations at five different facilities. Paul stated that she had seen footage of animal cruelty at the Foster Farms Livingston slaughterhouse, and that she believed her action was legally and morally right. The court ruled that the hidden camera footage from inside the slaughterhouse and the legal opinions regarding open rescue could not be shown to the jury.

The two rescued chickens, Ethan and Jax, were taken by Paul and Santurio to receive medical care. Jax is still alive today living at an animal sanctuary, but Ethan passed away a few days after the rescue. A necropsy report from UC Davis found that Ethan had infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), enterococcus faecium, and E. coli. Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg, who the defense called as an expert witness, testified that IBV is an extremely contagious coronavirus with a mortality rate as high as 60%, and that the enterococcus faecium and E. coli pathogens posed a public health risk.

The state’s own witness, Eligio Hernandez, who was driving the slaughterhouse transport truck when the rescue happened, testified that birds die every day in the truck.

“They did what they did because they knew somewhere out there, there was a little bird sick and scared and collapsed on the floor of a slaughterhouse truck, crying out for help, and what Alexandra and Alicia intended, what they want more than anything in the world, was for that little bird who has never known any kindness in their life, to feel love for the first time,” said Wayne Hsiung, a former Northwestern Law visiting professor who represented Alexandra Paul in his closing remarks to jurors.

“This is yet another victory for animals and for open rescuers,” said UC Hastings law professor and criminal law scholar Hadar Aviram, who wrote a legal opinion on the right to rescue in 2018 which was cited by both defendants in the trial. “This verdict not only affirms the selflessness and bravery of the activists, but also reflects a moral and legal understanding that animals are worth protecting and that saving suffering animals is not a crime.”

Merced County Judge Paul Lo, who presided over the trial, denied the defense’s motion to present a necessity defense, but granted the defense’s motions in limine regarding an advice of counsel defense and mistake of law defense. This allowed the defendants to testify about conversations they had with lawyers prior to the rescue and what they believed at the time they took action — namely, that they believed they had a right to rescue animals from Foster Farms’ cruelty.

The prosecution has garnered national media attention — including condemnation in an op-ed published last month in The New York Times. Columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote, “Don’t we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to save animals from inhumane factory-farming facilities, or at the very least, to not punish people who try to help?”

“This is a victory for Ethan, Jax, and all other living beings subjected to abuse by corporations like Foster Farms,” said Alicia Santurio. “I have so much love for the chickens in my family and I want all animals to experience that safety and respect.”

“Now that the Merced District Attorney’s office is done wasting resources prosecuting animal rescuers, I hope they’ll realize their error and start prosecuting the real criminal, Foster Farms, which is violating animal cruelty laws on a daily basis,” said Almira Tanner, lead organizer of Direct Action Everywhere.

Merced County Judge Paul Lo thanked the jurors for their deliberation and said, “This is not a case about just two chickens. It’s about very important principles.”

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

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