Animal lover Wayne Hsiung rescued an injured chicken from a factory farm in Sonoma County, California, after authorities repeatedly ignored evidence of criminal animal cruelty there. For this simple act of compassion, Hsiung was found guilty of ‘felony conspiracy’ and two counts of ‘misdemeanor trespass’ on November 2 2023. On November 30, he was sentenced to 3 months in prison and 2 years probation, which prohibits him from speaking to his friends at Direct Action Everywhere (a volunteer group that documents cruelty and neglect on factory farms). If he does speak to them, he’ll be imprisoned once again.

Crimes against animals

After multiple investigations at Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm showed criminal animal cruelty (including starvation, cannibalism and scalding birds alive), evidence was repeatedly presented to Somona County law enforcement. When authorities refused to take action, this led to last-resort efforts to aid animals who were suffering in these factory farms. To highlight and publicise the criminality of the case, animal lovers took it upon themselves to openly rescue some of the chickens and ducks who were clearly in need of emergency medical care, in the hope that law enforcement would finally take action against the farms.

But rather than enforcing the law and prosecuting the farms, authorities prosecuted those who exposed the farms’ crimes.

Prosecuting whistle-blowers rather than criminals

Immediately after the verdict, investigators went straight from the courtroom to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to report new footage from Sunrise and Reichardt that shows criminal animal neglect and abuse of sick, injured animals who continue to suffer on these farms. Still no action has been taken.

Animals are being left with painful injuries, unable to walk to food and water, stuck on their backs and slowly starving to death. Many chickens in these farms resort to cannibalism from overcrowding, while undercover footage has shown these facilities even scald them alive. This is the criminal animal cruelty that the jury in Wayne Hsiung’s felony trial was not allowed to see.

Instead of investigating these violations of animal cruelty laws, the government has jailed Hsiung for exposing it.

Denying the freedom to a fair trial

In two similar cases, where evidence of criminal cruelty on factory farms had been ignored by law enforcement, Wayne Hsiung and actress Alexandra Paul had openly rescued individuals who were suffering. They were charged with ‘burglary’ and ‘theft’, but both Hsiung and Paul were acquitted. [1] [2]

Despite clear evidence of criminal animal abuse and neglect on Sunrise and Reichardt, all photo and video evidence was withheld from the jury due to rulings by Judge Laura Passaglia. This meant Hsiung was unable to provide the very same evidence that had been given to law enforcement, which showed why he had been in the factory farms, why he was compelled to rescue a chicken in distress or disprove the prosecution witness testimonies that the treatment of the animals at their facilities was ‘humane’.

Throughout the trial, Hsiung encountered additional 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.

Hsiung plans to appeal his conviction due to prejudicial and reversible error by the judge.

“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 a setback than an opportunity to litigate the legal status of animals in the appellate court and in the court of public opinion.”

Good Samaritan law

In many countries and jurisdictions around the world, ‘Good Samaritan’ laws exist, which allow individuals to break into a vehicle to rescue animals in distress without facing legal repercussions. These laws often require the rescuer to follow specific steps, such as attempting to call law enforcement first.

One of the individuals rescued at Sonoma was Qing (pictured), a female chicken, who was carried out in the arms of Wayne Hsiung on May 29, 2018.

Qing is now free, living in a sanctuary. While Wayne Hsiung is in prison for acting as a Good Samaritan by rescuing an individual in distress, after he and others repeatedly shared evidence of criminal animal cruelty with law enforcement.

A cover-up that speaks to the power of corrupt, harmful industries

For years, investigators with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) have been exposing violations of animal cruelty laws at factory farms in Sonoma County, including Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm. Instead of prosecuting these companies, the authorities have gone after the whistle-blowers and animal rescuers. This isn’t justice. It’s a cover-up.

Over 100 people have been arrested on felony charges for peacefully acting to help suffering animals at factory farms, and now, one animal rescuer is sitting in jail for his acts of compassion.

Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm are still in operation.

The right to rescue

No one should be above the law, yet despite clear evidence showing animal abuse and neglect, corrupt corporations are allowed to continue harming animals, while whistle-blowers are imprisoned. No one should be prosecuted for exposing something illegal. And no one should be prosecuted for aiding someone who is suffering after law enforcement have failed to act.

It’s time corrupt, harmful corporations are held to account and authorities finally stopped the criminal animal cruelty happening on factory farms. And it’s time caring people were protected in the right to rescue someone in distress, whether they are a dog confined in a hot car or a chicken confined in a farm. Members of the public shouldn’t have to do law enforcement’s job to ensure animals are protected, and they shouldn’t have to face imprisonment for it.

The law matters and animals matter

When authorities fail to enforce the law and take action against animal abusers, it undermines our democracy and our freedom to stand up for what is moral and legal.

Wayne Hsiung was imprisoned for rescuing a neglected chicken after law enforcement refused to take action. Hsiung will be appealing his conviction, which means he has the chance to establish case law for the right to rescue an animal who is suffering and in need of medical care. Such a precedent would not only vindicate his actions but also provide a stronger legal foundation for the defence of animals in future cases.

On the day of Hsiung’s sentencing on November 30, volunteers at DxE held a peaceful march to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to deliver further evidence of animal cruelty at the farms they’d investigated. It was here that three of Hsiung’s friends were arrested by undercover police for previously rescuing animals in distress after authorities again refused to take action. All three people face the same charges as Hsiung – felony conspiracy and misdemeanour trespassing. Over 100 people have now been arrested on similar charges for providing emergency medical aid to animals suffering on factory farms.

This is more than a story about a freed chicken and an animal rescuer behind bars. It’s a story about whistle-blowers and everyday people standing up for what is moral and legal. And most of all, it’s a story about the kind of society we want to live in – one that respects the law and respects animals.

KEY INFORMATION

  • U.S. prosecutors have charged more penalties for activists revealing blatant animal mistreatment than they have charged factory farms with committing it. This trend is a glaring miscarriage of justice, and it must be reversed.
  • 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.
  • 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 or former federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper.
  • Michael Weber, co-owner of Sunrise, testified that, “There were no sick and injured animals on the ranch in any of the buildings” on May 29, 2018.
  • 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.
  • 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.

REFERENCES

[1] Animal Rights Activists Are Acquitted in Smithfield Piglet Case – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[2] ‘Baywatch’s’ Alexandra Paul found not guilty of chicken theft – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)