Animal welfare activists released from jail after Petaluma duck farm arrests

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About 70 animal welfare activists were released Wednesday from the Sonoma County Jail following their arrests Monday during a large-scale demonstration at a Petaluma duck farm, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

During the protest, organized by Berkeley-based group Direct Action Everywhere, about 300 activists arrived on buses at the Reichardt Duck Farm to denounce the conditions of birds raised at the farm.

On Wednesday, over 100 activists affiliated with the group showed up at the Sonoma County Superior Court in a show of support for the jailed protesters. Direct Action Everywhere legal coordinator Eva Hamer said the group was relieved by the news that the activists would be released.

“It’s definitely good news. They did nothing wrong,” she said. “It’s a huge sacrifice to go to jail and it really shows how committed these activists are.”

District Attorney spokeswoman Joan Croft said the office was still reviewing evidence Wednesday, and no charges had been filed. She said because of the high number of arrests and large volume of evidence, the office has not yet reached a decision about what charges, if any, will be filed against the protesters.

Eighty activists were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, and several were also cited for felony crimes including receiving stolen property and felony vandalism. Some of the activists were cited and released because they had bike locks around their necks, which complicated the booking process, the District Attorney’s Office said.

A Monday press release from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said 98 protesters had been arrested. Croft could not explain the discrepancy and a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office did not return a request for comment.

About a dozen protesters entered the facility and locked themselves to machinery until a conveyor belt with activists chained to it was turned on by an employee of the farm, hurting an activist named Thomas Chiang. Chiang was treated at the hospital and later released for injuries to his neck.

Cassie King, a Direct Action Everywhere organizer, credited supporters of the group with public pressure that she thought contributed to the District Attorney’s decision to release the jailed protesters. King and other Direct Action Everywhere members are still facing felony charges from previous protests at Sonoma County farms.

“It gave me more confidence for the future that the overwhelming support from the public is influencing the government and the ultimate outcome of these cases in Sonoma County,” she said.

Direct Action Everywhere organizers argue their actions are legal under a California penal code that allows bystanders to enter an area where animals are confined if the animals are being deprived of food and water — conditions that the group argues existed at Reichardt Duck Farm.

Representatives of the farm did not respond to multiple requests for comment throughout the week, including Wednesday evening.

Last month, former Assistant US Attorney Bonnie Klapper wrote a letter of support for the animal welfare activists, arguing that the California penal code provides them with the legal right to enter facilities where animals are being mistreated.

“I find it hard to believe that District Attorneys, when confronted with illegal animal cruelty to farm animals, do nothing,” Klapper wrote. “Almost as bad as doing nothing, they do not exercise their prosecutorial discretion and decline to prosecute peaceful activists whose only motive is to provide food and water to animals subject to illegal treatment and document the unlawful conditions.”

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @iambeale.

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