Animal Rights Activists Accused of Stealing Chickens From California Poultry Farm

Law enforcement officials arrested 67 animal rights activists who raided a California poultry plant and allegedly stole chickens on Saturday.

About 200 activists broke into McCoy's Poultry Services in Petaluma, according to a statement from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

"Initial responding deputies entered the property and were confronted by approximately 70 protesters, who were wearing white protective clothing, many of whom were carrying chickens they had stolen from within buildings on the property," the statement said. "Deputies also learned that the owner and an employee of the company had been assaulted by a protester during the event. Due to the amount of protesters on the property and on the street in front of the business, approximately 40 deputies responded to assist, along with the Sheriff's helicopter."

Those arrested were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, felony burglary and felony conspiracy. One person was also charged with assaulting the owner and employee of the poultry farm.

The activists belong to the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, whose participants staged and a 500-person rally across from a farm in May, according to The Press Democrat. Members of the group have also recently taken piglets from a Utah farm, interrupted diners at restaurants and protested a butcher shop, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

They "brought a medical tent, under which they brought some birds found in a large shed, saying they needed medical care for conditions such as dehydration, broken limbs from being trampled and ammonia burns from standing in waste," according to CBS San Francisco.

"We believe we have the legal right to rescue animals and get them the medical care they deserve," event organizer Wayne Hsiung said. The activists said that California penal code gave them the right to rescue animals that were being abused.

Chickens are seen at a poultry farm in South Africa. 200 animal rights activists broke into a California poultry farm over the weekend. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Direct Action Everywhere spokesman Matt Johnson rebuked the felony and assault charges, and defended the group's actions.

"That's not the way we act," he said, according to the Houston Chronicle. "We train extensively in nonviolent protest in the spirit of Gandhi."

He also told Newsweek that the sheriff made "false and defamatory" statements about the activists' conduct. "There's now clear evidence showing that the activists -- and not the farm employees -- were the victims of verbal and physical assaults including farm staff shoving activists and ripping their clothing and the farm owner yelling at passing vehicles 'run them over! I'll pay you.'"

He added that "this is part of a much broader pattern of inappropriate ties between corporate food companies and government that has led to the widespread criminalization of nonviolent dissent."

Sonoma County Second District Supervisor David Rabbitt criticized the activists.

"They should really just rely on the regulatory agencies that are in place that inspect these properties on a regular basis, rather than trespassing and acting as vigilantes," he said.

The demonstrators posted a video from jail on Sunday, saying authorities had released 35 people from detainment. Another video posted by the group claimed police took five out of six rescued chickens from the activists and killed the birds.

This article was updated to include additional statements from Direct Action Everywhere Spokesman Matt Johnson.