Sonoma County jury finds animal activist guilty of felony, 2 misdemeanors in Petaluma farm protests

The Sonoma County jury deliberated for six days.|

After nearly a week of deliberations, a Sonoma County jury on Thursday found animal welfare activist Wayne Hsiung guilty of one felony and two misdemeanor charges in connection with poultry farm protests near Petaluma in 2018 and 2019.

Hsiung, 42, was convicted of two misdemeanor trespassing counts, one of which is trespassing with the intent to disrupt a lawful business, and a felony charge of conspiracy to commit trespass.

The jury, though, deadlocked on a second felony conspiracy charge.

Following the verdict, three sheriff’s deputies escorted Hsiung, in handcuffs, out of the courthouse in Santa Rosa and through a small crowd of about 18 of Hsiung’s supporters. “We love you Wayne,” a number of them said softly.

“It’ll be OK,” he said in return, several times, as he was led through the crowd and into the Sonoma County jail.

Hsiung was charged with two counts each of conspiracy and trespassing at two Petaluma locations: Sunrise Farms on May 29, 2018, and Reichardt Duck Farm on June 3, 2019.

In each event, hundreds of animal welfare activists converged on the properties and removed chickens and ducks they alleged were mistreated.

Their goal, according to Hsiung, was to raise awareness about the mistreatment and encourage discussion to improve conditions in the poultry industry. Hsiung, who represented himself in the trial, argued that his intentions were not criminal in nature but, instead, were meant to spur dialogue about the treatment of animals.

He also stressed in the trial that his group contacted authorities before the protest at Sunrise Farms.

Prosecutors accused the group of using extreme tactics in order to try to change animal cruelty laws. They contended Hsiung organized protests consisting of hundreds of people and refused to leave private properties.

Ultimately, jurors deadlocked on the second conspiracy charge over the question of whether Hsiung was involved in organizing the Reichardt protest, where participants locked themselves to equipment and gates.

Hsiung argued that while he was present and voiced support at the Reichardt protest, he did not organize it and that the locking of protesters to equipment was not his preferred method of action.

Following his conviction Thursday, Hsiung issued a written statement through his supporters, although it wasn’t immediately clear when he prepared it.

He apologized for any offense he caused and thanked the judge, the prosecutor, jury and farm owners for giving him an opportunity to discuss the protection of animals.

“What we have done to these gentle creatures on this Earth is, in both scale and severity, the greatest source of terror and suffering in the history of our species,“ he wrote. ”And I do not regret or apologize for my efforts — our efforts — to combat this grave injustice.

Judge Laura Passaglia set sentencing for Nov. 30.

The jury of four men and eight women received the case the afternoon of Oct. 24. On Wednesday, jurors reported they had failed to reach a consensus and were deadlocked at 11-1 on the charges. They did not say which way the split leaned.

Passaglia refused to declare a mistrial and urged the jury to resume deliberations in order to reach a verdict.

After Hsiung was taken to jail Thursday, his supporters — protesters who had packed the courtroom as the verdict was announced — moved to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, where they found a locked door.

The group, Direct Action Everywhere, has been investigating animal cruelty at the two farms where protests occurred while the trial went on, organizer Zoe Rosenberg told reporters. They sought to file what they said is evidence they have gathered with DA Carla Rodriguez, who, according to Rosenberg, had indicated to the group that she would consider an investigation of their claims after the trial concluded.

But with the door to the DA’s courthouse office locked around 3 p.m., the group marched instead to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, carrying signs that read, “Right to rescue.”

Upon their arrival, a sheriff’s deputy took their report. From there, the group marched to the jail to protest Hsiung’s incarceration.

“Our friend is in jail because of their failure to act and they have forced ordinary citizens like us to act in their stead,” Rosenberg told the gathered group, “and then they prosecute us for exercising our legal rights to help these animals.

“This county is beyond corrupt,” she said.

Rosenberg told reporters she hoped Hsiung’s incarceration would spur further interest in the animal welfare movement. Hsiung is the co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere.

In a video posted to the social media site X shortly after the verdict was delivered, Direct Action Everywhere claimed it had removed several birds, including a chicken named Elsie and a duck named River, from the Petaluma farms even as the trial continued.

Representatives from Reichardt and Sunrise farms did not immediately respond to voicemails requesting comment Thursday evening.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.