Activists want a court order banning Beaver County officers from harassing or threatening them.
As Beaver residents celebrated Pioneer Day at a weekend festival, animal rights activists from Direct Action Everywhere set up a table to ask passers-by, “Have you heard about the Smithfield trial?”
Smithfield Foods is the county’s largest employer and the group wanted to discuss the upcoming trial of two members accused of stealing two piglets from Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms.
Recently released cell phone video shows Beaver County Sheriff’s Sgt. Warren Woolsey confronts the activists and ties Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) to Smithfield’s recent announcement that it will cut production in Utah and lay off an undisclosed number of employees.
“Do you realize that your company has caused a problem in our community?” asked Woolsey, according to a July 23 recording by Curtis Vollmar, a DxE organizer, and quoted in a new lawsuit. “…Do you realize you are not wanted in this community and you have been asked to leave?”
Vollmar later says in the recording: “All this for handing out flyers.”
And Woolsey replies, “All this because your group has had a direct influence on the closing of Smithfield Foods. … There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs. And you come into this community and salt the wounds of the people.” who have lost their jobs.”
Freedom of expression lawsuit
Now Vollmar and two other activists, with DxE and Utah Animal Rights Coalition, have filed a lawsuit alleging that the sheriff’s office violated their free speech. They are also asking a federal judge to ban Beaver County and its officers from arresting or citing them if they return to the community to do outreach in public areas in the weeks leading up to the trial.
“Like a bad B movie, the plaintiffs literally told the plaintiffs that they were ‘unwanted’ in their county and had to leave the city,” attorney Karra Porter wrote in the lawsuit. “The only way for plaintiffs to follow the defendants’ orders was to completely stop speaking on important public issues. This case is not a close call.”
The lawsuit also alleges that prior to Woolsey’s interaction with Vollmar, Sheriff Cameron Noel leaned over the activists’ table and loudly told DxE member Alison Morikawa that the activists would be “killed” if they did not stop, and threatened to file a complaint against them. the suit said. The sheriff “presumably” referred to local citizens, the indictment said.
Noel’s alleged statement has not been recorded and he has not responded to The Salt Lake Tribune’s requests for comment. Vollmar was subpoenaed for disorderly conduct.
Porter said the activists were in public land on July 23.
“This is actually older than our constitution — the concept that you can stand in a public place and see if people want to talk to you or hand out a flier,” Porter said.
She said they included photos in the legal complaint to show Vollmar was “on a street corner, a public street corner”. I mean, this is crazy.”
Porter added: “They can try to blame Smithfield’s decisions on the animal rights group, but that really just sounds like an excuse.”
The plaintiffs are suing Beaver County, along with Noel, Woolsey and Deputy Lonnie Laws.
Jim Monroe, a company spokesperson for Smithfield Foods, declined to comment on either the lawsuit or the upcoming September 9 trial. As for the number of jobs that will be cut, he said, “it’s an ongoing transition we’re making over the coming months,” but didn’t provide details.
The lawsuit alleges that Noel and other officers approached the activists at the request of the sheriff and threatened to arrest them. Four of the five activists were intimidated and stopped, according to the file, but Vollmar continued to approach people. By trying to get him to stop, the officers violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment, Vollmar told the Tribune.
Much of the encounter was captured on video, which Direct Action Everywhere shared with The Salt Lake Tribune. Members have also posted snippets on social media.
Laws was recorded and told activists they would “certainly be killed” if they went outreaching where horse races were taking place, the lawsuit claimed.
What is the ‘Smithfield Process’?
Paul Picklesimer and Wayne Hsiung, the two DxE activists who allegedly took two piglets from Circle Four Farms in 2017, captured their exploration of the pig farm in virtual reality, allowing viewers of the video to pan and watch in any direction, The New York Times has reported. The videos showed images of pigs tightly packed in metal pens and dead piglets lying next to their mothers.
The activists say they took the piglets to an animal shelter because they believed the animals were sick and would likely die quickly without assistance.
Prosecutors asked a judge to exclude that video from the trial, arguing that it would “confuse and mislead the jury” so much that any value it held as evidence would be “significantly outweighed by the danger of unfair bias.”
The two men appealed the judge’s decision to allow only still images. [and] excludes from the trial the most important evidence for the defense, including evidence of the value of the piglets and the video footage of the alleged crime.”
But the Utah court of appeals declined to review the ruling before the trial.
The judge, prosecutors told the appeals court, “explained that this case is not ‘a pig industry referendum’, but ‘about a burglary that may or may not have occurred and [about] the theft of pigs that may or may not have occurred and the value of those pigs at that time.’”