‘Baywatch’ star used loophole to beat chicken-stealing charges, Merced DA says

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Merced County District Attorney Nicole Silveira said she wants to set the record straight about “rescuing” farm animals. It’s illegal and you will be prosecuted.

On Friday, a Merced County jury found two animal rights activists not guilty of removing two Foster Farms chickens from a delivery truck destined for the processing plant in Livingston.

The activists, former “Baywatch” actress Alexandra Paul and Alicia Santurio, of Direct Action Everywhere, testified that they “rescued” the chickens in September 2021 because they were sick and not being treated humanely. One of the chickens later died from illness and the other was taken to an animal sanctuary.

The case was closely watched by animal rights groups who saw it as a key victory in the movement to make it legal to remove farm animals that are suspected of being neglected.

More than a dozen states, including California, provide immunity to a person who breaks into a car to rescue a pet that is in distress. But that protection does not apply to farm animals.

Defendants Alexandra Paul and Alicia Santurio outside the Merced County Superior Court in March 2023.
Defendants Alexandra Paul and Alicia Santurio outside the Merced County Superior Court in March 2023.

In an email to The Fresno Bee, Silveira explained that the jury’s not guilty verdict does not mean that the defendant’s acts were legal.

“It shows that they were not guilty of this crime,” she wrote. “The crime of theft is still criminal conduct.”

She added that the activists and their legal team used a “mistake of law” defense, meaning “they believed it was legal to steal the animals in this instance.”

“Now there should be no further mistake that this conduct is illegal and anyone who commits these acts will be prosecuted. They, and everyone who reads this, is now on notice that it is illegal to take animals from another person, farm, or place of business,” Silveira wrote. “Moving forward from this verdict, there should be no further mistakes or misunderstandings: if you steal animals in Merced County, regardless of your personal beliefs, you will be prosecuted for that conduct.”

Cassie King, spokesperson for Direct Action Everywhere, said Friday that animal activists will continue with their work, despite the threat of prosecution.

“The laws are failing these animals; even when there is evidence of animal cruelty, nothing is done,” she said. “And when legal options are exhausted and people know animals are starving to death or are being boiled alive, people cannot stand by. Rescues will continue and I hope the authorities will be inspired to take animal cruelty laws more seriously.”

Foster Farms officials declined to comment Monday.