Sixty-seven animal welfare demonstrators who swarmed the grounds of a poultry farm in northwest Petaluma on Saturday afternoon as part of an organized protest were arrested on a combination of trespass and felony burglary charges, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The protesters, part of the Bay Area chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, said they were demonstrating against what they characterized as inhumane conditions, alleging they documented mass confinement of chickens in filthy industrial sheds at the site.
“These are supposedly free-range chickens and we’ve found chickens dead and dying inside the barns,” said Matt Johnson, spokesman for Direct Action Everywhere, also known as DxE.
It was the third large protest spearheaded by the group at a Sonoma County poultry farm this year.
Sheriff’s officials said they received multiple calls at about 1:30 p.m. reporting trespassers on the property of the McCoys Poultry Services on Jewett Road, just south of Stony Point Road.
“It was reported that numerous animal rights activists had stormed the property, broken into several buildings and were actively taking chickens,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a press statement.
Sheriff’s deputies encountered about 200 protesters on Jewett Road near the poultry business. Inside the farm, deputies encountered another 70 other protesters wearing white protective clothing and carrying chickens they had taken from buildings, officials said.
The Sheriff’s Office said the owner and an employee of the company had been assaulted by a protester during the event. The owners of McCoy’s Poultry Services could not be reached Saturday by phone for comment.
Some 40 deputies were called to assist in the arrests, officials said. The Sheriff’s Office Henry 1 helicopter and a transportation bus were also used to carry out the arrests, a process that lasted four hours, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Sonoma County Animal Control employees responded to take possession of the chickens that had been taken from the business, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
In May, the DxE animal welfare group conducted one of the largest animal welfare demonstrations ever held at a Sonoma County farm. An estimated 500 demonstrators rallied for more than three hours across the street from a farm on Liberty Road north of Rainsville Road. In that case, 40 activists were arrested on suspicion of trespassing.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District includes the Petaluma region, said Saturday it was wrong for the activists to be taking the law into their own hands. He said local egg producers are constantly being monitored by state and federal regulators.
“They should really just rely on the regulatory agencies that are in place that inspect these properties on a regular basis, rather than trespassing and acting as vigilantes,” Rabbitt said.
Johnson, the DxE spokesman, said DxE members had been investigating the farm targeted by activists for several months, at times entering unlocked barns in the middle of the night.
Those arrested Saturday, many from throughout the Bay Area, were booked into Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing, felony burglary and felony conspiracy. Bail was set at $20,000 for each individual.
Johnson said the organization has a legal fund of about $75,000 that could be used to bail out some of those now sitting in jail. But he said most are likely to stay in jail through the weekend until they go before a judge on Monday or Tuesday.