PETALUMA, Calif. - An animal rights activist was sentenced in Sonoma County on Thursday to 90 days in jail and two years of probation for felony trespassing at chicken and duck farms in 2018 and 2019.
Wayne Hsiung, 42, is a San Francisco attorney and co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE. The activist group supports causes such as the "right to rescue," maintaining that it's akin to the right to break into a car to rescue a dog in hot temperatures.
The organization is hoping to make legal the right of people to enter places such as a factory farm to remove animals that are being "exploited" or are in distress.
The animal rights group said that Hsiung was doing just that when he and hundreds of others in DxE converged on Sunrise Farms in Petaluma on May 29, 2018, and removed chickens. Hsiung and others did the same thing on June 3, 2019, at the Reichardt Duck Farm, also in Petaluma.
Prosecutors said Hsiung and others effectively shut down farm operations at both locations and chained themselves to fixtures at the duck farm.
"The First Amendment is not a license to commit crime," said District Attorney Carla Rodriguez in a statement released by her office Thursday. "Mr. Hsiung went beyond mere activism and decided to engage in unlawful, reckless, and potentially dangerous behavior, putting farmers, their employees and flocks of birds at risk of harm by his conduct."
DxE decided to remove birds from both locations after they discovered what they allege were abuses to the animals at both facilities. Though the group had footage of the conditions at the farms, the video was barred from being played for the jury because it was deemed prejudicial, the organization said.
The activists allege that "tens of thousands" of birds at Sunrise were packed into tall rows of cages that included sick, dead and dying chickens. DxE's investigators also allegedly found injured birds that could not access food or water.
At Reichardt, activists allege that ducks were mistreated and found stuck on their backs on wire mesh, unable to right themselves, among other things.
John Reichardt, owner of the duck farm, testified at trial that the birds there are humanely raised and slaughtered.
Hsiung and others maintain that they had repeatedly reported the facilities to Sonoma County officials but saw no action taken, "which led them to believe direct intervention was necessary to help the animals," a spokesperson for the group said Thursday.
Hsiung said he will appeal his verdict, which was reached by a jury earlier this month.
Hsiung in many ways stepped up to bear the brunt of the entire group's actions at the Petaluma farms. On the first day of trial, prosecutors dropped their case against Cassie King, another prominent member of DxE.
However, on Thursday afternoon, three more activists associated with the group were arrested on felony warrants, according to King. Zoe Rosenberg, Conrad de Jesus and Rocky Chau are all investigators with DxE and were apprehended by the sheriff's office. Rosenberg documented what she said she found at Reichardt, which included a duck she rescued who had "bloody wounds all over his back."
Activists are hoping that by successfully appealing Hsiung's verdict, Direct Action Everywhere will be able to affect case law and provide a "stronger legal foundation for the defense of animals" in future cases, according to a spokesperson for the group.