Direct Action Everywhere activists face charges after Petaluma protest

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Activists in association with the animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, were arrested in Petaluma, California, on Sept. 29 and now face charges of felony conspiracy, felony burglary and misdemeanor trespass.

DxE is known for its protests against industries that sell or produce animal-based products. This specific protest was an “open rescue” at a free-range farm. DxE spokesperson Matt Johnson said  DxE had been investigating farms across the country before visiting the Petaluma Poultry farm.

DxE claims that 58 of its activists were arrested, but the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department reported detaining 67 activists.

“There were definitely several current (UC Berkeley) students and a few recent grads. Half of the people were Berkeley residents,” Johnson said.

According to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to 911 calls from McCoy’s Poultry Services and encountered about 200 animal rights protestors who were participating in a vigil at the farm.

Activists claim the farm provides products to Perdue Chicken and supplies to Amazon.

Perdue Chicken claims to raise organic and free-range chicken, but DxE alleges animal rights violations and “brutal” conditions, according to Johnson.

The activists had set up tents as “medical centers” to care for the animals, providing them with water, food and also medical treatments for injured birds, according to campus senior Dean Wyrzykowski.

After setting up on-site medical tents and treating some of the birds, the protesters started to leave the farm with both dead and alive animals, taking the ones who allegedly needed the most medical care.

The police arrived at the scene with about 40 deputies and one helicopter, arresting the activists and handing the animals over to animal control. Each person charged was put on a $20,000 bail, according to Wyrzykowski.

According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell, spokesperson for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, decisions on whether to charge those arrested at the farm had been made. While prosecutors are pursuing several felony cases, the majority of those arrested face misdemeanor charges, which Staebell said can be avoided if the implicated individuals opt for a diversion program.

“Caring for abused animals is our legal right,” Wyrzykowski said in a Facebook post. “Under CA penal code 597e, it is lawful to enter a premise and care for abused animals. But we were denied that right.”

DxE posted a compilation of footage from its efforts at McCoy’s Poultry Services on Facebook, featuring the group’s interactions with the police and farm owners and the conditions on the farm.

DxE’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, said in an email that he will focus on defending the activists against what he characterized as an “organized campaign” against public dissent.

“This is an affront to the most basic principles of American justice, and is morally outrageous,” Schwaiger said in an email.

Contact Thao Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.