Direct Action Everywhere co-founder Wayne Hsiung sentenced in conspiracy case involving Petaluma poultry farms
A 42-year-old animal welfare activist was sentenced to jail Thursday as hundreds of supporters decried his conspiracy and trespassing convictions, which stemmed from two poultry farm protests outside Petaluma more than five years ago.
A dozen of Wayne Hsiung’s supporters watched silently — some of whom fought back tears — as Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Laura Passaglia sentenced Hsiung to 90 days in county jail, followed by two years of probation.
He also was ordered to stay at least 50 yards from the poultry farms, barred from interacting with co-conspirators and forbidden from entering commercial feeding operations without permission.
Thursday’s sentencing concluded a 5 1/2-year case that was never about limiting free speech or activism, Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner told Passaglia.
Rather, he said, it focused on Hsiung’s unlawful, reckless and potentially dangerous behavior.
“That behavior will not be tolerated in this county,” Waner told Passaglia.
On Nov. 2, a jury of eight women and four men convicted the Hsiung, a Berkeley resident, of one felony count of conspiracy and two misdemeanor counts of trespassing. Jurors, though, deadlocked on a second felony conspiracy charge after nearly a week of deliberations.
The charges were related to protests at Sunrise Farms on May 29, 2018, and Reichardt Duck Farm on June 3, 2019. The alleged offense jurors deadlocked on related to the 2019 gathering, which Hsiung denied organizing.
A co-founder of controversial animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, Hsiung had contended during the 15 days of testimony in his trial that he and his group were allowed on the farms’ properties under a California law that stated people may enter private property to assist animals that aren’t receiving proper food and water.
Hsiung did not comment during his sentencing hearing Thursday, but his probation report shows he conceded to authorities that that law applies strictly to animal shelters. He also admitted that members of his animal rights group gathered at Sunrise Farms without consent.
In each farm protest, 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 of these animals and encourage discussion to improve conditions in the poultry industry.
At Reichardt, participants stormed the property, shut off machines and used bicycle locks to secure themselves to equipment.
Hsiung, who represented himself at trial, argued that his intentions were not criminal in nature. Instead, he said, he hoped to spur dialogue about the treatment of animals.
Passaglia, in her brief comments to Hsiung Thursday, told him there is a difference between activism and criminality, and “in this case, you chose to break the law.”
At least 50 of Hsiung’s supporters filled the hallway outside of the courtroom Thursday ahead of his sentencing. Fewer than 20 of them made it into the courtroom, which fits about 30 people.
Court security was visibly increased, as there were at least four Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom during the hearing.
Deputies were also posted outside the courthouse where hundreds of people waved signs and shouted in support of Hsiung.
Ahead of the proceedings, a deputy advised everyone to refrain from communicating with Hsiung, who was dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit and seated in the jury box. A woman was told to leave after ignoring the deputy’s request and her seat was quickly filled by another supporter.
Local attorney Izaak Schwaiger represented Hsiung for the sentencing. He told Passaglia his client was sorry for his actions and he only had good intentions.
“I do know that Wayne’s heart is in the right place and it always has been,” Schwaiger said.
That sentiment was disputed, though, by Mike Weber, co-owner of Sunrise Farms, and Garrett Bergthold, a representative for Reichhardt Farms, one of the poultry farms.
Standing before the judge, Weber told her that Direct Action Everywhere is an “extremist group” and its members continue to target his farm.
“It’s a constant source of intimidation,” he said.
Weber disputed activists’ claims that his chickens are in poor shape and said, “We are successful because we don’t mistreat our animals.”
Schwaiger said Hsiung still maintains that the poultry at Sunrise Farms has been mistreated and that, “the general conditions at these facilities were really shocking.”