Animal-welfare activists must pay $331,991 in restitution to California farm, court says
A judge ordered two animal-rights activists who trespassed at a Farmington egg farm in 2016 to pay $331,991 to compensate owners who destroyed all 45,000 chickens in the barn the men entered.
Paul Picklesimer and Jason Oliver will appeal a Dec. 19 ruling in San Joaquin Superior Court, according to a release from Direct Action Everywhere.
The group, also known as DxE, has been making headlines for drawing attention to what members consider animal cruelty. About 120 members protested Sunday at a ranch north of Oakdale where three women were arrested in October while trying to remove an ailing calf.
The cattle ranch, Ray-Mar Farms, is less than five miles from cage-free Pleasant Valley Farms, the Farmington egg supplier where Picklesimer and Oliver appeared in a stealth video and removed two sick hens in October 2016. Their visit was featured in New York Times and Washington Post articles examining whether crowded cage-free farms such as Pleasant Valley were much better than battery cages, or traditional confinement.
The activists found “widespread cannibalism” among chickens and “horrific conditions,” DxE's release said. The men initially were charged with felony commercial burglary and eventually pleaded to reduced misdemeanor trespassing charges in October 2017.
Pleasant Valley, on East Carter Road 20 miles north of Modesto, said all birds in the barn were destroyed for fear that the activists had contaminated them. The men argued Wednesday, apparently without success, that they had taken adequate biosecurity measures, and accused farm owners of killing the entire flock “to cover up disturbing cruelty at the farm,” the release said.
“Pleasant Valley Farms is fiercely protective of their well-deserved reputation for supplying cage-free and organic eggs of the highest quality to customers including Costco,” said a statement emailed Friday by prosecutors with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office. “Rather than risk the very existence of their family business to a claim of contaminating the food supply, the owners depopulated the flock,” the statement reads.
The hens, which lay about a dozen eggs every three weeks, were 69 weeks old, and normally are killed and replaced at about 82 weeks. Judge Michael Mulvihill agreed with veterinarians testifying at a series of restitution hearings, who estimated the loss at $332,000.
Owners “believed they could financially weather the loss of 12 weeks of eggs, but that bad publicity or a lawsuit by someone claiming to have been sickened would bankrupt their business,” prosecutors said.
DxE has justified entering animal production facilities without permission by saying members are rescuing animals from suspected cruelty. Picklesimer's record, for instance, includes arrests on suspicion of stealing pigs from a Utah farm earlier this year; trying to free birds from a Petaluma egg farm in May; and stealing three turkeys from a Utah farm in early 2017.
The three women arrested in October had been carrying a calf from Ray-Mar Farms on Dodds Road.
On Sunday, about 120 people protested at Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department headquarters west of Ceres before making their way to the ranch, where they were met by freshly-strung barbed-wire fencing and new “no trespassing” signs, as well as a contingent of deputies on horseback and ATVs and others armed with batons and pepper-ball rifles while a department helicopter circled overhead.