The LA 3! From Jury and Jail to Justice!
from No Compromise Issue 4
 

By Casey Brooks, one of the LA 3

THE INITIAL ARREST

On December 17th, 1995, the Animal Rights Direct Action Coalition (ARDAC) participated in a national day of protest against Federated Department stores. Our target was Bullock's in the Beverly Center shopping mall in Los Angeles. This protest brought out members from many area animal rights groups, including ARDAC, Orange County People for Animals (OCPA), Education and Action for Animals (EAA) and Animal Emancipation (AE).

On that Sunday morning, a group of us were willing to risk arrest to fight animal abuser. While a protest was held outside the shopping mall, a group of activists entered the Beverly Center. Some went into Bullock's, and locked themselves with Kryptonite bike locks to railings near the escalators. Facts about the torture of the fur industry were read to any shoppers near-by. Other activists formed a human chain across the entrance to Bullock's, locking onto display signs, and to each other with heavy metal lock-boxes. Chanting, "Fur is dead!", "Boycott Bullock's!", and "Bullock's tortures animals!"

The police were ready for us, and Beverly Center and Bullock's security were waiting, although they let us lock down before taking any steps towards us. Soon we were surrounded, and the police began arresting us. 17 activists were arrested that day in the Beverly Center, including 2 people who were merely video taping the protest. We were loaded onto a bus and taken away, still chanting through the windows.

FELONY CHARGES!

The men were taken to Parker Center, and the women to Van Nuys to be booked. We were all feeling positive about the action until we were told that we were being charged with not only trespassing, but conspiracy and felony burglary! As we tried to understand what was happening we were strip searched, booked, and settled into a cell with bail set at $15,000 each! We all made phone calls to our support people, lawyers, jobs and family members. We called the bail commissioner to try and get out bail reduced so we could be released on our own recognizance (OR). It looked like we would be held until our arraignment.

Over the next 3 days our charges were dropped to misdemeanors, and our bail dropped to $5,000 each. We did interviews with the LA Times. We talked about the action, and wondered, over and over, how this had happened! Despite the unpleasant circumstances, it sure made a hell of a story!

On Tuesday evening we went before a judge and were all released OR. Finally it was over, and we could go home. We were all relieved, and worn out from our 3 day hunger strike. Of course it wasn't really over!

THE TRIAL

Charges eventually were dropped against 7 activists, including the 2 video takers. As we continued to make court appearances, 5 people took deals. That left 5 people to go to trial, with 2 court appointed attorneys, 2 activists represented by Larry Weiss, and one going pro per (meaning he represented himself).

The trial began on June 10th. We wanted to use the necessity defense which argues our illegal actions were necessary to prevent a greater evil. In our case, we needed to disrupt Bullock's to prevent their murdering animals and damaging the environment. But the judge did not allow us to use the necessity defense. The trial lasted about 4 days. The jury deliberated for about 3 hours, and returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of trespass for all 5 of us.

On June 26th the 2 men in the trial were sentenced to 3 years probation, 240 hours of community service, a stay away from the Beverly Center and $30.34 restitution to Bullock's, which they accepted. On July 11th the 3 women were sentenced. We refused to accept probation, and were therefore sent to Sybil Brand (county jail) for 90 days. We were taken to jail that day.

OFF TO JAIL

We spent the next 15 days in jail, on a hunger strike, while support from all over the world strengthened our resolve. Protests at the jail were held in the company of riot police, mounted police, and professional video crews. In jail, we were questioned about our knowledge of the protest plans of our supporters. We told them nothing. The whole jail went into lock-down while the supporters were outside. A protest at the Beverly Center resulted in 3 more arrests. Nationwide Federated protests were carried out. Knowing how much support we had, and hearing about all the energy generated by our jailing inspired all 3 of us, and helped us to keep our spirits up.

LOCK-DOWN

When we first arrived, after being kept up all night for processing, we were put in 3 separate "dorms", with about 200 women in each. After hearing about our hunger strike, however, we were interviewed by a deputy and nurse, and told we were going to be housed in a separate area so they could monitor us medically. What we did not know was that this "special area" was a lock-down area.

We were told by other inmates that this was where the trouble makers were sent, for fighting too much, or not being able to get along with other inmates, or talking back to the guards. We were assured many times by the jail staff that we were in "administrative segregation", and that we were NOT being punished. Apparently not being punished included being kept in a 5' by 6' cell for at least 23 hours a day, not being able to use the phones or showers until we were let out. It also included being kept in a very cold environment, and having large [industry size] fans turned on at night when inmates were too loud, which blew very cold air on us, and made enough noise to make sleeping impossible.

Other features of our new home included not being allowed cleaners or disinfectant to clean our sinks and toilets, and roaches and mice roaming freely through our cells, and on our beds at night. One inmate was taken to the infirmary while we were there to be treated for a bite from a mouse. At least 2 other inmates on our cell block were on high doses of antibiotics for highly contagious staph infections. Although we weren't being punished, we were handcuffed whenever we had visitors, a privilege that not all inmates were allowed. Inmates were treated with a total lack of respect by most of the jail staff. We were also denied the juice 3 times a day that we were promised by the infirmary. Other inmates on the cell block informed us that their linens and clothing had not been exchanged for clean ones in 3 weeks.

RESISTANCE & VICTORY!

After a series of complaints made by us, our supporters, and our lawyers, clean linens and clothing were provided, although along with that we got our cells searched and emptied of such "contraband" as extra blankets and personal items purchased at the commissary. The problem with the fan being turned on was looked into, and we were informed that all inmates on our block were supposed to be allowed 2 hours a day out of our cells. Despite being in "lock-down" 23 hours a day, having very little access to phones, fasting for 15 days, and being kept in a filthy jail, we remained strong. We made some waves about the conditions in the jail, and sent a clear message to the judge and Bullock's (now Macy's) that we would not be intimidated. There is no doubt in my mind that we did the right thing.

The jail received hundreds of phone calls about us, as did the Judge Schwartz. The judge was asked to release us OR at sentencing, pending our appeal. He refused. He was asked to release us OR at our bail hearing, or at least set a reasonable bail. He refused.

Finally on July 25th, we went before the judge once again. He spoke to us about the hundreds of phone calls, faxes and letters he had gotten about us. He actually quoted some things from our supporters. He said he had sought out vegetarian and vegan friends of his in order to educate himself about the issue. He claims to have called the jail every day during our incarceration to make sure we were alright. He finally released us OR pending appeal, and indicated that he would not require us to go back to jail if we lost or dropped the appeal, providing we are not arrested again before then!

So the LA 3 are now free, and trying to decide whether to pursue our appeal. It would be wonderful to have another chance at using the necessity defense. On the other hand, if the judge really means that he will not send us back to jail by giving us time served if we lose or drop the appeal, then we would be free from the watchful eye of Judge Schwartz. We are keeping in mind, however, that when we go back before the judge, we might end up going back to jail to finish our sentence.

This case has been an incredible experience. As an activist who has strongly disliked going to court, and has not wanted to risk losing my job, I am so glad that I chose to go through the trial, and refuse probation. I am empowered, and my resolve has been strengthened. I know that I did the right thing for myself and for the animals. I know there is nothing that the courts can do to me that comes close to what the animals are put through every day. We all learned a lot about our approach to actions, to lawyers, and to trials. We learned about jail support, and we generated a lot of energy that I hope will continue. As I write this, there are other animal rights activists in jail. Some have been there for a long time, convicted of A.L.F. activities. Some have only been there a few days, convicted of trespassing, as I was. All these activists deserve our support, as do the animals. I hope you all will be inspired by the dedication of those around you, and get out there and show it!