Animal rights activists to stand trial in 2018-19 Petaluma burglary, conspiracy case

A judge’s ruling Monday was the culmination of a five-hour preliminary hearing for defendants Rachel Ziegler and Jonathan Frohnmayer.|

Two animal rights activists will stand trial in a conspiracy and burglary case related to three protests that drew hundreds to Petaluma-area poultry and duck farms in 2018 and 2019.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Urioste’s ruling Monday was the culmination of a five-hour preliminary hearing for defendants Rachel Ziegler and Jonathan Frohnmayer.

They each face felony counts of conspiracy and burglary plus misdemeanor counts of trespassing, unlawful assembly and theft.

“This is hundreds of people storming a property,” Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Bob Waner told Urioste as he described those involved in the protests.

Ziegler and Frohnmayer are scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 14 in Sonoma County Superior Court.

They were among hundreds of protesters who gathered at three different times and locations in 2018 and 2019:

  • May 29, 2018: Sunrise Farms, north of Petaluma on Liberty Road;
  • Sept. 29, 2018: McCoy’s Poultry Services north of Petaluma on Jewett Road;
  • June 3, 2019: Reichardt Duck Farm, west of Petaluma on Middle Two Rock Road.

Prosecutors allege protesters forced their way into the poultry facilities in 2018 and stole chickens under the guise of liberating them from harmful conditions. In 2019, they say, ducks were stolen and protesters chained themselves to the property.

Ziegler and Frohnmayer’s charges vary by protest and the burglary counts, for example, pertain only to the 2018 incidents. Conspiracy counts, however, relate to the May 2018 protest and the one in 2019.

Much of Monday’s testimony focused on whether Ziegler and Frohnmayer were present during the protests, which took place on private property, or whether they were directly involved in the thefts of birds from the farms.

A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy identified protesters in an aerial shot from a drone and Ziegler’s attorney, Gabriela Lopez, questioned how he was able to identify people who are barely visible.

Footage from the 2019 protest showed Frohnmayer giving a rally speech and his attorney, Lauren Regan, emphasized that he welcomed Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies at the scene and urged them to investigate the duck facility.

“If anything, this is First Amendment-protected assembly,” she told Urioste.

Waner described Ziegler and Frohnmayer as “very active” members of a group determined to eliminate animal agriculture and exploitation.

The Berkeley-based animal welfare group, Direct Action Everywhere, seeks to draw attention to the suffering of commercially raised animals and providing them with relief.

The controversial organization gained notoriety in April after one of its members disrupted a Minnesota Timberwolves/Los Angeles Clippers basketball game when she glued her hand to the basketball court in an act of protest.

“We’re not just charging anyone,” Waner said in describing the group’s notoriety.

Four other members are also facing multiple felonies linked to the three Sonoma County protests. Their cases have been delayed multiple times, but they’re scheduled to return to court Jan. 18.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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