Two animal welfare activists who reportedly removed two ill and dying piglets from a Smithfield facility in Utah five years ago are now undergoing trial and facing multiple felony charges, and up to 10 years in prison, for their nonviolent and likely life-saving act.
Protestors holding signs that read “Right to Rescue” and “Stop Covering Up Animal Cruelty” gathered outside the 5th District Court house in Washington County, Utah, in support of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) Founder Wayne Hsiung and DxE activist Paul Darwin Picklesimer.
In 2017, Hsiung and five activists infiltrated Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms, recorded conditions that included bleeding mother pigs gnawing at the bars of their cramped gestation crates, dead piglets in piles, and living piglets covered in feces, as reported by the New York Times.
They also reportedly removed a piglet with a severe leg injury, whom they named Lily, and a malnourished piglet nursing on a shredded teat, whom they named Lizzie, that the group said likely would not have otherwise survived.
The organization then reportedly transported the piglets to emergency care and an animal sanctuary, which was raided in upcoming months by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The trial hinges on the State’s arguments that the act amounts to felony burglary and theft — even though the reported market value of the piglets, in optimal health, would have combined been less than $100 — while Hsiung and Picklesimer stand by former statements that removing the pigs was entirely legal, given immediate concerns that the animals would otherwise die, and that the piglets true market value to Smithfield would therefore have been zero.
The case originally was scheduled to be heard in Beaver County, where Circle Four Farms is located, but was relocated to Washington County after concerns about choosing an impartial jury surfaced.
Smithfield earlier this year announced plans to lay off two-thirds of workers at a nearby plant, and jury questionnaires showed a majority of respondents had direct connections, family, or friends who were involved in the animal production industry or local law enforcement.
Even in Washington County, jury selection took over 12 hours, with Hsiung – a California-based attorney who is representing himself — pointing out he was not given the same information about the potential jurors as was given to the prosecutors, with Judge Jeffrey Wilcox admitting to news he had made a “mistake” but continuing with the proceedings anyway, according to Spectrum news.
Other concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest also have blown up news reports and social media in the opening days of the trial.
Wilcox ruled earlier this year that he would not permit the real-time video of the rescue into the courtroom, saying the footage was too graphic and could elicit an emotional response from the jury, according to news reports.
He also closed the courtroom to the media and members of the public, with proceedings only available via Livestream.
Meanwhile, investigative reporting has documented that current Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has received direct campaign funding from Smithfield, as has the Republican Attorneys General Association.
The case has sparked heated criticism from animal welfare advocates, and some unreal arguments from those seeking to exclude evidence of Smithfield’s reported conditions for animals.
The Attorney General, in asking to suppress the rescue video, cited a Utah rape shield law whose aim is to protect victims of sexual assault from having their character smeared during court proceedings — which The Intercept noted is nonsensically comparing a powerful agricultural corporation to a rape victim.
The cited law was “never meant to prevent the disclosure of evidence relating to animal cruelty,” Bonnie Klapper, a former federal prosecutor, told The Intercept — also pointing out that the reference was being made to protect a facility that massively and routinely forces insemination onto pigs.
Jeremy Beckham, executive director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, told news he doesn’t see a difference between DxE’s rescue of the reportedly severely ill piglets from “a dog trapped in a hot car about to die.”
“I would smash the window to save that dog’s life even though that’s technically breaking somebody’s property,” Beckham told Fox 13. “They did a non-violent action, and they saved the lives of two piglets who would have been discarded by the industry anyway. For them to drag this out for over five years in what the state even admits is only $80 worth of property I think really shows the abuse of corporate power at play here.”
A petition started by DxE on RightToRescue.com that asks for “immediate action to rectify the abuses of the factory farming industry around the world, and protect whistleblowers who expose this misconduct and help the suffering animals” had gained close to 36,000 signatures as of Oct. 6.
Hsiung, prior to the start of the trial, thanked supporters on his Twitter page with these words: “I received some great advice this week, on how to handle hardship, that I want to share with all of you: Remember love.”
We can all be on the right side of history and show our support for Wayne and Paul by choosing plant-based meals that don’t harm pigs or anyone else, and by always stepping in if and when witnessing cruelty to animals.
The trial is scheduled through Oct. 7. To keep up with the trial’s daily developments, please see LFT’s coverage here.