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Animal activists accused of stealing piglets in Southern Utah to appear in court

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(KUTV) — Five animal rights activists are scheduled to appear in court on Monday to face felony charges for allegedly stealing piglets from a Southern Utah farm.

The Utah Attorney's General office filed charges against the activists, who are members of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), a California-based animal rights network. They are accused of stealing two 3-week old pigs from a barn in Milford.

Six activists face charges; five face four felony charges that could land them in prison for up to 60 years.

The activists documented "animal cruelty, including piglets rotting in piles of feces," according to a news release by DxE.

The animal rights group allegedly took the piglets by an act they call "open rescue," taking the piglets to a vet for recuperation.

DxE released video of the piglets being taken, one of whom they named Lily.

An employee of the farm, called Smithfield Foods, contacted authorities on July 6, 2017 to report the theft, court documents state. The employee reported to authorities that video had surfaced online allegedly showing the activists stealing the piglets.

"Rescuing animals from abuse is not a crime," said Wayne Hsiung, DxE co-founder and former law professor, citing a criminal law scholar's legal opinion. "Lily would have ended up in the garbage with hundreds of other dead piglets on site."

Those facing charges include Hsiung, 36, Paul Picklesimer, 40, Samer Masterson, 24, Andrew Sharo, 24 and Jonathan Frohnmayer, 33.

According to court documents, they face the following charges:

  • Pattern of unlawful activity, a 2nd-degree felony
  • Two counts of burglary committed against an animal enterprise, a 2nd-degree felony
  • Theft of livestock property committed against an animal enterprise, a 2nd-degree felony

All defendants besides Masterson face a charge of Riot, which is a class A misdemeanor.

The same group of five activists, in addition to Diane Gandee, 63, will appear in Sanpete County Court on Wednesday to face two felony theft charges for allegedly stealing a turkey from a central Utah farm.

"We rescued Abby (the turkey) because that was simply the compassionate thing to do," Frohnmayer said. "She was on the verge of death. She couldn't hold her head up."

Hsiung was arrested in Boulder, Colorado in April for trespassing. According to a news release by DxE, he was "asking questions of management and showing pictures from farms." An additional charge of "threatening bodily injury" has also been added, according to the news release.

According to the activists, the charges show "the disproportionate influence held by agribusiness and food conglomerates like Smithfield and Whole Foods."

Prosecuting attorney Kevin Daniels has worked for Smithfield in his private practice, The Intercept reports.

"The legal process has been distorted by ties like this, leading to unconstitutional measures such as the repealed 'ag gag' law, and to misuse of taxpayer funds," the news release states.

"Baby pigs at Smithfield suffer mutilation, starvation and abuse, and the company doesn't want the public to know about it," Hsiung said. "This is an effort to intimidate activists who are exposing misconduct — at the cost of millions in taxpayer dollars."

Hsiung and other activists with DxE say the charges will not discourage them from pursuing their activism efforts. According to the news release, they will contest all charges against them and "continue their campaigns against Smithfield, Whole Foods and other corporate factory farms."

"Our legal system should protect animal rescuers rather than the animal abusers," Sorbi said.

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