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.”

Sentencing proceedings

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.”

Despite this, probation officials said in their report that Hsiung apologized to Weber for bringing hundreds of protesters onto his property in 2019, as Weber was trying to get the scores of protesters to leave.

“I could hear the distress in his voice,” Hsiung told probation officials. “I didn’t like it then. I don’t like it now.”

Schwaiger said Hsiung will likely appeal his felony conviction. He does not want to be disbarred.

“It’s definitely a danger zone. It’s an issue,” Schwaiger said.

Outside the courtoom

More than 180 people gathered in front of the courthouse Thursday morning, some arriving as early as 8:30 a.m., two hours before the scheduled sentencing hearing.

Many of them had red faux roses pinned to their lapels, tucked into their shirts or intertwined in their fingers. Some dogs sported the red flower on their sweaters.

The flower represented a chicken named Rose, which protesters had taken from McCoy’s Poultry Services in Petaluma in 2018.

“We wear these roses just as a signal of unity amongst ourselves, but then also to show people and remember what we’re here for, the animals.” said Samantha Faye, a spokesperson for Direct Action Everywhere.

Prosecutors accused the activist 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 claimed he disapproved of their actions that day and was not involved in organizing the event, though he later showed up to offer support.

According to the probation report, “The defendant expressed remorse (for Sunrise Farms) and stated ‘I don’t think we should do anything like that again.’

As for Reichardt, Hsiung said he wished he’d “done more” to stop protesters from chaining themselves to fences and other private property.

Priya Sawhney, a close friend of Hsiung and former defendant in the court case, said Thursday’s demonstration outside the courthouse felt different because, for the most part, they knew what was coming.

“We know that Wayne might get up to three years in (jail),” she told The Press Democrat before the hearing. “This is a symbolic gesture in many ways to say, ‘this is not a criminal sitting inside… this is somebody who had done incredible work helping animals.’”

Rocky Chau, another animal activist, passed out flyers in front of the courthouse that advertised future advocacy events.

“As unfortunate as it is to hear that our good friend Wayne has been convicted and possibly facing years in (jail),” he said, “I know that what he would have wanted for me is to continue doing the work.”

Following the sentencing, Chau was arrested by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for an outstanding warrant. Details about what Chau was wanted for were not immediately available Thursday.

Two other demonstrators, Zoe Rosenberg and Conrad de Jesus, were also arrested. Activists claimed Rosenberg also was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

The Sheriff’s Office did not provide immediate information Thursday regarding the arrests.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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