A Litigation Article from All-Creatures.org

I took the stand to defend animal rescue

From Almira Tanner, DxE Direct Action Everywhere
October 19, 2023

I am reminded that we can do incredible things for animals when we work together. We can decipher complicated election rules and processes and successfully qualify our first ever ballot initiative. We can take the stand for animals and be confident and composed under intense cross-examination.

DxE Direct Action Everywhere

It was a busy day in court yesterday! I took the stand again to continue my testimony, and so did Alicia Santurio, Alexandra Paul, Dr. Andrew Sharo, and Caroline Paul. We also got some exciting news about one of our other major campaigns. This is a long one, so grab a cup of coffee and read all the details.

When I got back on the stand, I was able to tell the jury that our intent during the Sunrise Farms action was to aid sick and injured animals and document violations of the law. I explained that I presented a dead hen that had been removed from the facility to the police on that day to demonstrate the conditions inside. The judge didn’t allow that footage to be shown and when I said the bird appeared to have been cannibalized, she struck that answer from the record.

The prosecution began their cross-examination with their new favorite questions: Am I vegan? Do I want people to adopt a plant-based diet? Do I support the Right to Rescue? Yes, yes, yes.

The prosecution then brought up photos of me protesting fur years ago and a picture I took holding a sign saying “I’m a community organizer from Berkeley demanding #NoMoreFactoryFarms in California.” They asked me if I indeed wanted to end factory farms. Am I supposed to be embarrassed? Of course I want no more factory farms! The majority of the public does, too.

In fact, we are now over 50% of the way to collecting the required 30,000 signatures to get a factory farm ban on the ballot in Sonoma County and shut down the very factory farms at the heart of this case. And just yesterday, we heard back from the City of Berkeley that our ballot initiative to ban factory farms there was officially approved for the next general election! This ban would solidify the shutdown of Golden Gate Fields, a horse racing operation that confines so many horses in Berkeley that it qualifies as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. It would also prevent any other factory farms from being constructed.

I wish I had a chance to say all that on the stand.

After I was finished, we continued with the next four witnesses:

Alicia Santurio testified that she used to work at an animal sanctuary where they would do a lot of large-scale rescues, has extensive experience in animal care, and was the primary person responsible for training activists in preparation for the Sunrise rescue. She described that during the action she walked into a barn and looked for animals who were injured or sick and rescued them, and that she believed she had the legal right to do that. She described one hen she rescued who had a mangled foot, and how she saw dead hens, one of whom had a long neck that looked bent and shaped in an unnatural way that appeared to be broken. Alicia attempted to testify that she has documented similar conditions at Sunrise Farms since 2018, implying that farm owner Mike Weber appears to have lied on the stand when he said Sunrise Farms does not use “cervical dislocation” to kill hens, but the judge prevented her from continuing.

Alexandra Paul started by explaining that she is an actress who starred in Baywatch and over 100 movies. She explained that she was a team lead during the action and she believed, based primarily on a legal opinion, that California Penal Code Section 597e gave her the right to go into a farm where animals were in need of aid. She described video footage she viewed that showed chickens crammed together so tightly they couldn't spread their wings, who couldn’t get to food and water, were lethargic, thin, dead, and more. DA Waner asked Alexandra whether the large crowd that was present at Sunrise was really helping in the rescue effort and whether it was intimidating. She explained that the crowd was needed for the rescue to be successful but that, no, everyone was peaceful and nonviolent with flowers in their hands.

Dr. Andrew Sharo began by explaining his role as lead of DxE’s animal care team from 2018-2020. In that role he compiled resources for people on how to help urban wildlife and organized sanctuary visits and pigeon care events. He was also a team lead during the Sunrise action. While he was in the barns, he saw the decapitated head of a hen in one of the wire cages, but the judge prevented him from going into any more detail. Andrew also saw and removed a rotting hen who was essentially “mummified” due to being left dead for so long in the barn. A photo of this was presented to the jury. He explained that he removed this hen to show why we were at the facility and what would happen to animals if they were not given aid. He had hoped that this bird would prompt the relevant authorities to do an investigation of the facility.

Caroline Paul was the last witness of the day. She was a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department for 15 years. In this role, she regularly rescued humans and other animals and was sometimes called to do wellness checks. She likened the Sunrise action to a wellness check for animals and said that, as a firefighter, she even broke down doors to do these checks and that it was well within the law to do so. Caroline was part of a rescue team at Sunrise and came across a hen on the floor of a barn with a large wound. The clip of her finding the hen was played for the jury. Caroline explained that she removed the hen because this was emblematic of the conditions at the farm and because it seemed respectful. She stated that she later walked back onto the property (at which point she got arrested) because her job was not done yet and she had a legal right to go back in there to make sure all the animals got care. Caroline will return this morning to continue her testimony.

It was a super long day, and a lot of us are feeling pretty tired, but it was also a hopeful and exciting day. I am reminded that we can do incredible things for animals when we work together. We can decipher complicated election rules and processes and successfully qualify our first ever ballot initiative. We can take the stand for animals and be confident and composed under intense cross-examination. And we can establish the Right to Rescue all animals from situations of distress and exploitation!

Additional witnesses, October 20, 2023:

Caroline Paul was asked by the prosecution why she removed a dead bird from a barn at Sunrise. She said “I felt it was emblematic of the fact that there was criminal animal cruelty going on there and there were birds not receiving food and water.” After the prosecution challenged her about the varied roles of activists at the Sunrise action and how not everyone was providing direct aid to animals, Caroline drew an analogy from her 15 years of firefighting experience. She explained how just as in a fire rescue operation where not everyone confronts the flames directly but each team member has a crucial role, similarly in animal rescue missions, “Not everybody’s inside, but everyone’s instrumental.”

Julianne Oram, who was the livestreamer of the action at Sunrise, told the jury, “My role was to document events on that day– to be a window to the public of how the conditions are on a ‘Certified Humane’ farm.” She also told them she has done multiple rescues in the past with DxE, including being part of a team with Wayne that rescued dogs from a meat farm in China and documented dogs being beaten to death.

Zoe Rosenberg, who rescued animals at Sunrise and Reichardt, told the jury she has been an activist since age 11 when she founded the Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary. She described learning about the conditions at Sunrise, saying, “I saw video footage and photos of a hen named Qing that had deformed feet, perhaps worsened by a life on wires.” DxE activists rescued Qing from Sunrise years prior to the mass open rescue on May 29, 2018. Zoe also testified about reviewing footage from Reichardt Duck Farm that Lewis Bernier shared with her, and then visiting the facility herself. She described seeing “ducks on their backs flailing, ducks unable to access food and water, and dumpsters of dead ducks.” Zoe wanted to know why ducks were stuck on their backs so she collected three deceased ducks from the facility and sent them to UC Davis for necropsies. The jury was not allowed to see the necropsy report, but Zoe told them, “There was bacteria isolated in the results that led me to believe a really fatal condition was spreading in the facility.” She also testified, “I entered the property around 8 hours before the rescue at Reichardt to see if conditions we observed earlier were still happening.” She confirmed that she did see similar conditions. Wayne asked Zoe how she felt post-rescue, and she said, “I felt very sad for all the ducks we left behind, but I felt incredibly grateful that we could get some ducks out of such a place.”

Lewis Bernier, a DxE investigator who filmed criminal animal cruelty at Reichardt, was able to testify about seeing ducks stuck on their backs in almost every barn they inspected at the massive facility. Lewis led the slaughterhouse lockdown component of the action, and they explained that they saw the harm happening to ducks at Reichardt as a dire “emergency” that they believed they had a legal right to stop. Lewis described how activists halted the slaughter line, using bike locks to attach themselves to the machinery. They said the primary intent of the lockdown was “to stop harm that was happening to animals.” When probed by the prosecution about whether they had an intention to interfere with a lawful business, Lewis stated, “It caused interference with the intention of stopping harm to animals. I think in order to stop a house fire one might get a house wet, but that’s not the intention.”

Additional witness, October 21, 2023:

The defense’s final witness, Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg, chief veterinarian at Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, was qualified as an expert in veterinary medicine with a specialization in poultry. Dr. Rosenberg described the footage she reviewed from Sunrise Farms in May 2018 and Reichardt Duck Farm in May 2019 (though she did not know where specifically the videos were shot at the time) and the veterinary opinions she wrote for DxE.

Regarding the egg farm footage, she discussed seeing chickens who were too sick to walk, chickens with eye injuries from being pecked, which she said indicated overcrowding, and a deceased hen in a nesting box who she concluded had likely been decomposing for a week. In the duck farm footage, she described seeing ducks stuck on their backs, paddling their feet, with deep lesions that she said indicated “they have been laying on their backs on this hard wire floor for hours if not days... this is not a normal finding on a duck facility."

Almira Tanner

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