Two activists who rescued two severely ill chickens from the Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Livingston, California, were acquitted of misdemeanor theft charges by a 12-person jury in the second major “right to rescue” verdict.
Alexandra Paul, a former Baywatch star, and activist Alicia Santurio in September 2021 removed two chickens from a transport truck headed to the slaughterhouse as part of the activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).
Ethan, who was so weak that he struggled to stand, died four days after the rescue. Jax, who is now living at an animal sanctuary, required intensive veterinary intervention to survive. A necropsy and veterinary exam found both birds suffering from contagious and dangerous illnesses, including infectious bronchitis, E coli, and enterococcus faecium — a bacterial infection that can kill humans, according to news reports.
Foster Farms took action against the activists after DxE released footage from inside the farm taken during an “open rescue” — a type of direct action that involves activists walking into factory farms, filming conditions there, openly posting that footage to raise awareness of the conditions, and removing any sick or dying animals they can.
The footage showed chickens on an assembly line moving at a shackling speed of 140 birds per minute who missed the stun bath and went on to have their throats slit or to face evisceration while fully conscious. The footage also showed birds thrown, crushed, left for dead, and suffocated under piles of dead birds.
Meanwhile, federal reports backed up these findings — with inspectors documenting conscious birds dunked into boiling tanks of water.
Foster Farms engaged prosecutors to pursue theft charges against the activists and denied any inhumane treatment, telling The New York Times before the trial that the allegations “are without merit and a disservice to the thousands of Foster Farms team members that are dedicated to providing millions of families in the Western United States and beyond with a quality nutritious product.”
Foster Farms did not respond to media inquiries about the outcome of the case.
The company said during trial that Ethan and Jax had a value of $8.16 each — or a financial “loss” to the company of about $16 — while DxE said that the chickens, who were ill and infected with deadly bacteria, were “worthless” to the company since they couldn’t be part of the food supply chain without posing a public health risk.
After six hours of deliberation, the jury in Merced, California, returned the unanimous “Not Guilty” verdict even though the judge refused to allow the undercover footage in the courtroom or for jurors to be presented with other “right to rescue” case law.
The activists could have faced up to six months in jail if convicted. Both Santurio and Paul had rejected multiple offered plea deals, including one that would have allowed them to not serve any jail time.
“I want to go to trial because I want to elevate the stories of these chickens,” Paul said. “The only reason that people know what’s happening to animals in these places — in factory farms, in labs, or behind circus doors — is because of animal rights activists.”
Santurio called the verdict “a victory for Ethan, Jax, and all other living beings subjected to abuse by corporations like Foster Farms.”
“I have so much love for the chickens in my family, and I want all animals to experience that safety and respect,” she said.
The verdict also is an important legal affirmation of the right to rescue farmed animals who are suffering, diseased, or in danger of an inhumane death, said law professor and civil rights attorney Justin Marceau.
“Commonsense and basic decency dictate that when another being is suffering, we should provide and/or care for them when we are able to do so,” Marceau said.
The case is the second acquittal for open rescue activists, following a victory in October 2022 when an 8-person jury returned a unanimous verdict that DxE Founder Wayne Hsiung and DxE Activist Paul Picklesimer had not committed felony theft or burglary by removing two severely ill piglets from a Smithfield Farm in Utah.
Hsiung, also an attorney who represented the activists in this case, said the verdict underscores the “right of every living being to be protected from corporate abuse.”
“It should be a clarion call for animal-abusing corporations that if you are going to hurt animals, people will intervene and stop you, and they will be defended by our community and by American citizens,” Hsiung told Vox.