Former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul and co-defendant Alicia Santurio were found not guilty of theft after rescuing two chickens from a Foster Farms’ truck in California
Los Angeles, March 19, 2023 — Animal rights activists all over the country are celebrating that former Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul and co-defendant Alicia Santurio have been found not guilty of misdemeanor theft in a court in Merced, California, in another open rescue case. This one involved two chickens taken from a Foster Farms’ truck parked outside its plant in Livingston. Both defendants were facing as much as 6 months in prison. But, now, not only have they been acquitted but they have managed to raise awareness of the plight of millions of chickens that have to endure a life of suffering at the hands of animal agriculture.
After Paul’s attorney Wayne Hsiung summarized the defense case with the phrase “if the birds were sick, you must acquit,” the jury deliberated for more than 7 hours over two days and delivered the non-guilty verdict on March 17. This is the second time in few months that an open rescue case ended with the acquittal of all the defendants, which is good news for the animal rights movement.
Following is the UnchainedTV report for the March 16, when the jury began its deliberations:
Another Open Rescue Case
This case was based on the incident that occurred on September 28, 2021, where Paul and Santurio performed an Open Rescue of chickens from Foster Farms as part of their activism for the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). This organization had previously investigated a facility from this company and complained about how the chickens were treated — alleging illegality. After identifying two chickens that appeared to be ill in one of Foster Farms’ trucks outside a Livingston slaughterhouse in California, Paul and Santurio took them away while being recorded by other activists. They named the chickens Ethan and Jax. Unfortunately, Ethan died a few days after he was removed from the truck, despite receiving veterinary care, but Jax, who was also ill, is still alive now recovering at an animal sanctuary.
Paul said to the Los Angeles Times before the trial, “we published this video within an hour with both my name and Alicia Santurio’s name attached to it because we believe what we’re doing is legal and morally right… We’re rescuing sick chickens from a factory farm that has a history of abusing them.”
Following is the UnchainedTV report for the trial hearing on March 13, 2023:
Foster Farms response is included in this New York Times story. We invite Foster Farms to comment further at any time.
“This story is 100% not about theft, but about rescue, and this is the story we told in the court room”— Wayne Hsiung, attorney and co-founder of DxE
What Happened in Court
The trial began on Tuesday, March 7 at the Charles James Ogletree Jr. Courthouse in Merced, California, and UnchainedTV was there reporting for the nine days of its duration. Alicia Santurio was represented by attorney Chris Carraway. Alexandra Paul was represented by DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung, who is also an attorney. In 2022, he stood trial after rescuing two pigs from a Smithfield-owned factory in Utah but was acquitted on October 8, 2022.
Initially, the defense argued the necessity defense, but on Wednesday, Judge Paul Lo ruled against it. Deputy District Attorney Joseph Attwell had argued that such defense only applies to humans, and the judge agreed. The prosecution tried to convince the jury that the two chickens rescued had economic value for the company, but it seems that the defense and the witnesses did a good job in disabusing the jury of that, idea due to the fact the chickens were sick. An interesting development in the hearings was when the prosecutors seemed to have learned, well into the trial, that Wayne Hsiung co-founded DxE. One might wonder, how is that possible, when one Google search would reveal that Hsiung is, famously, the co-founder. After that hearing, Hsiung told UnchainedTV that this was probably just a prosecution tactic.
One of the most shocking testimonies given at the trial was from veterinarian Dr Sherstin Rosenberg, who said, “These were two extremely sick chickens. At the time I was concerned they might not survive. And, they were infected with an extremely contagious coronavirus called infectious bronchitis virus. A hundred per cent of birds that are exposed will get sick. Very contagious virus. They also were infected with two bacteria that can make human beings sick.” She later said these two were Enterococcus faecium and E coli, and also said that the birds “were very lethargic, they had poor appetites, they had pale combs, and, significantly, they were unable to walk.”
Following is the UnchainedTV report for the trial on March 14, 2023:
Alexandra Paul Testimony in Court
When giving testimony, Alexandra Paul explained to the jury what Open Rescue is:
“Open rescue is going into facilities where there’s animal abuse and documenting that animal abuse, and rescuing the animals who need medical care. And, that’s the rescue part. And, then, the open part is that we don’t cover our faces. We are completely transparent about what we’re doing because that’s an important ethic to us, because the companies we are investigating are not transparent, and also because we believe that what we are doing is legal and right.”
After its undercover investigation, exposing the conditions at a Foster Farms facility, DxE had asked the D.A. to prosecute the company. The D.A. did not do so. DxE says their open rescues are in response to the government’s refused to hold factory farms and slaughterhouses to account. Paul said this of her undercover investigative work, which has involved other companies as well.
“Californians passed a law that was supposed to improve the conditions of animals in the factory farms. The problem is that lots of factory farms weren’t following this law, even though more Californians than ever had chosen to vote for this specific proposition. And the government agencies weren’t doing anything to enforce the enactment of this law, to improve conditions for factory farms, especially egg-laying hens. So, I chose to investigate a farm in Southern California to see if they were in fact following the law. And they were not.”
She also outlines what happened during a previous open rescue that she did:
“When I was investigating a Southern California egg farm I rescued a chicken that was thrown into a dumpster. She was still alive, so there [were] lots of chicken dead bodies over her, but we managed to rescue her before she was suffocated.”
Following is the UnchainedTV video report for the trial on March 15, 2023:
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Jordi Casmitjana is a vegan zoologist and author.