Direct Action Everywhere founder Wayne Hsiung & co-defendant Paul Picklesimer were prosecuted for “stealing” two piglets left to die
ST. GEORGE, Utah––Direct Action Everywhere founder Wayne Hsiung, defending himself, and co-defendant Paul Darwin Picklesimer, represented by veteran Salt Lake City lawyer Mary Corporon, were on October 8, 2022 acquitted by jury on all charges pertaining to the alleged theft of two piglets from Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, in 2017.
Jury deliberated for seven hours
The jury deliberated the theft and burglary charges for seven hours on the morning after hearing closing statements from the prosecution and defense, before unanimously discarding a prosecution case five years in the making.
Circle Four Farms is owned by Smithfield Foods, which has in turn been owned since 2013 by the Hong Kong-based WH Group.
That fact alone ensures that the jury verdict against the interests of the biggest firm in the pig-raising and slaughter business will reverberate from the remote southern Utah desert to China and back.
If a fool won acquittal, what did that make of the charges?
Advised William De Britaine in 1682, and jurists have mostly agreed in the 340 years since, “He who will be his own counselor, shall be sure to have a fool for his client.”
If Hsiung was a fool, what does that make of Beaver County prosecuting attorney Von Christiansen, representing the State of Utah, and the Smithfield and WH Group decision-makers who pushed the case?
The case began several weeks after Direct Action Everywhere posted an online video showing what Hsiung, videographer Picklesimer, and three other Direct Action Everywhere members saw during a night infiltration of the purportedly ultra-secure farrowing barn on the Circle Four Farms premises in Beaver County, Utah.
Direct Action Everywhere called the raid “Operation Deathstar.”
Feds declined to press charges
“Local and federal law enforcement officials began a multistate investigation,” summarized Salt Lake Tribune reporters Leto Sapunar and Jordan Miller.
“FBI agents raided animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado, and at one of them government veterinarians sliced off part of a piglet’s ear in their search for DNA evidence of the crime,” Sapunar and Miller recounted.
That maimed piglet turned out to have nothing to do with the Circle Four Farms intrusion.
“The authorities never recovered the stolen piglets, and the federal government declined to press charges,” Sapunar and Miller continued.
“But prosecutors in Utah pursued felony burglary and theft charges against the activists,” Sapunar and Miller reported.
Faced five-and-a-half years
Hsiung and Picklesimer potentially faced five-and-a half-year prison sentences, steep fines, and restitution orders.
Three other activists who were indicted with Hsiung and Picklesimer pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges “in exchange for an agreement that they would not trespass on Smithfield properties in Utah nor criticize the corporation online for three years,” The New York Times mentioned.
Though Hsiung and Picklesimer were charged in Beaver County, their trial was moved to Washington County after Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox expressed “concern” about the limited jury pool in the community of under 7,000 people.
Smithfield blames layoffs on animal advocates
Further, observed Sapunar and Miller, “Smithfield told its employees in June that it would be cutting its operations in Beaver County to a third, threatening the jobs of a quarter of the county’s workforce,” blaming the layoffs on California legislation requiring that pork sold within the state must meet the California requirement that sows and piglets not be kept in gestation stalls.
Hsiung and defense attorney Corporon argued that the Smithfield cutbacks might bias a Beaver County jury against Hsiung and Picklesimer.
“During the trial,” Judge Wilcox “dismissed one count of burglary against each of the men, who had been accused of also entering a different building,” Sapunar and Miller added.
Judge did Hsiung & Picklesimer no favors
Beyond moving the trial and dropping the extra burglary counts, Wilcox did Hsiung and Picklesimer no favors, and indeed appeared to favor the prosecution in pre-trial rulings that the jurors would not be shown the “Operation Deathstar”video, that Hsiung would not be allowed to present a “defense of necessity,” meaning that he violated the law to avoid a greater harm, and that as Wilcox framed the case, it would be about burglary, not animal rights, with no testimony to be offered as to the defendants’ motives.
“For instance,” described Sapunar and Miller, Wilcox “ordered that the defense cut in half an image of one of the piglets that showed the bloody teat of the mother pig.”
Tossing “defense of necessity” might have helped
Ironically, excluding the “defense of necessity” might have helped Hsiung, as the case developed.
Hsiung previously used a “defense of necessity” in defending himself against felony charges of breaking and entering and larceny, brought against him for taking a baby goat from the Sospiro Goat Ranch in Pisgah Forest, Transylvania County, North Carolina in June 2018.
Hsiung alleged that the goat was suffering from pneumonia and lice.
Convicted by jury, Hsiung in the North Carolina case received a suspended prison sentence, plus 24 months on probation.
Prosecution case contracted precedents
The Utah prosecution contended that while the allegedly stolen piglets were worth no more than $42 apiece, Smithfield Foods’ reputation was materially harmed by the “Operation Deathstar” video, and by Direct Action Everywhere protests targeting Costco, a major Smithfield.
The Utah prosecution further alleged that Direct Action Everywhere had used the purportedly illegally obtained “Operation Deathstar” video to raise $50,000 in donations.
However, a long string of precedents, many of them won in civil rights cases, decades ago established that within the U.S., alleged defamation must be tried as a civil rather than criminal matter; the individual choices of consumers in response to a boycott may not be considered material losses attributable to a boycott campaign; and likewise the individual choices of donors may not be considered material losses to the opposing side of a public issue.
“Clear case of government overreach”
Hsiung won a critical admission from a Smithfield witness that the one or two veterinarians on duty at Circle Four Farms employee could not provide individual care to as many as 1,600 pigs seen per day.
Corporon successfully objected that the prosecution wrongly implied to the jury that the piglets Hsiung and Picklesimer took were about to get veterinary case.
“This is a clear case of government overreach,” summarized Corporon, representing Picklesimer.
“Let’s face it,” Corporon said. “Joe Sixpack citizen can’t get the F.B.I. to try to solve the burglary of their TV or their grandmother’s ring because they’re not a major multinational corporation with immense political pull.”
“I was there”
Admitted Hsiung in his closing statement, “I was there on the night of March 7, 2017. I did remove two piglets from Smithfield Foods.”
But Hsiung contended that he had taken nothing of value from Circle Four Farms, an essential element for the prosecution to prove theft and burglary charges, because Circle Four Farms itself had discarded the still living but sickly piglets as refuse.
Hsiung further testified that Picklesimer was present only to document whether Smithfield was continuing to house mother pigs in gestation stalls, prior to previous corporate promises.
Picklesimer did not testify in his own defense.
Corporon asked the jury to consider whether Picklesimer could have simultaneously operated the video camera and carried a squirming pig.
“Just take care of your animals”
Concluded Hsiung after the unexpected jury verdict, “This is a resounding message about accountability and transparency. Every company that is mistreating animals and expecting that government and local elected officials will just go along with them because they have them in their pockets will now realize that the public will hold them accountable, even in places like southern Utah.
“Instead of trying to put us in prison,” said Hsiung, speaking directly to Circle Four Farms, Smithfield Foods, the WH Group, and other factory farmers, “the better thing to do is just take care of your animals.”
The piglets whom Hsiung and Picklesimer were charged with stealing, long since fully grown, have been identified by Direct Action Everywhere as having been named Lily and Lizzie, now residents of the Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary in Erie, Colorado.
The FBI and The New York Times, however, identified the piglets as Lucy and Ethel, said to be now living at an animal sanctuary in Utah.
Who is Wayne Hsiung?
Hsiung, 41, an attorney with a background in political organization, left Direct Action Everywhere in 2019 to unsuccessfully seek a seat on the city council in Berkeley, California, where Direct Action Everywhere is headquartered and where both Hsiung and Picklesimer , 31, are longtime residents.
Wrote Berkeleyside editor Frances Dinkelspiel, in an extensive October 7, 2020 profile of Hsiung, “In 2016, Wayne Hsiung moved to Berkeley with the explicit intent of using the city as a lever for the liberation of animals.
Direct Action Everywhere
“From a home shared with others in Berkeley’s tony Claremont district, Hsiung and organizers in Direct Action Everywhere, the group he co-founded in 2013, worked to build a social movement that would expose the cruel living conditions for animals in industrial farms around the nation.”
Under Hsiung, Direct Action Everywhere increased annual donations from $47,000 in 2017 to nearly $500,000 in both 2018 and 2019.
A support group, Friends of Direct Action Everywhere, run by Hsiung’s sister Amy, has raised more than $4.2 million since 2014, including one 2019 contribution of $567,725.
Direct Action Everywhere, headed since 2019 by vegan activist Priya Sawhney, now claims more than 50 active chapters in 20 nations.
British Columbia verdict pending
Vegan activists Nick Schafer, 36. and Amy Soranno , 39, of Kelowna, British Columbia, are meanwhile now due to be sentenced on October 12, 2022, facing up to ten years in prison apiece.
Schafer and Soranno were on July 12, 2022 convicted by jury on charges of breaking and entering and mischief for their part in exposing alleged animal abuse in April 2019 at the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia.