Gina Lynn, an animal rights activist imprisoned for three weeks on contempt charges for refusing to talk to a federal grand jury, was released yesterday by a federal judge.
Lynn, a vegan who has refused to eat solid food during her incarceration at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, has vowed never to cooperate with grand juries that she considers “corrupt and unconstitutional” tools of political repression.
The grand jury is investigating a firebombing of a Thurston County timber company and the release of hundreds of chickens from a Skagit County farm.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, citing the legal requirement that incarceration for civil contempt be used only to coerce cooperation with grand juries and not for punishment, ordered Lynn “released forthwith” late yesterday afternoon. Zilly opened the proceedings, which initially had been secret, after hearing arguments from an attorney for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman could not convince Zilly that three weeks was insufficient time behind bars to coerce Lynn into talking. Instead, Zilly agreed with Lynn’s attorney, Peter Camiel, who asserted: “She is steadfast in her beliefs. She is not going to cooperate with a grand jury.” He noted that she was called before a grand jury in 1999 and refused to testify in that instance.
Zilly was apparently swayed, too, by the approximately 40 letters he received from Lynn’s fellow activists, 10 of whom were in the gallery yesterday. The judge quoted from one letter that said Lynn “has stated publicly and privately that she will never cooperate with a grand jury. She believes the grand jury system is unjust.”
Camiel glanced toward a noticeably slimmer Lynn and said: “Since the day she entered the federal detention center, she has not eaten any solid food. She has done that, in part, to show her resolve. This is a very strong-willed individual who is committed to her position.”
The question that remains before the grand jury is whether Lynn’s commitment to ending what she considers the exploitation of animals includes violence and other illegal acts. Lynn was identified in court yesterday as a target of the same grand jury she refused to testify before, which is investigating arson, vandalism and the wholesale release of farm animals.
At about 2:30 a.m. on May 7, 2000, a fire devastated the headquarters of Holbrook Inc., a timber company near Olympia. Three weeks later, the Earth Liberation Front took credit for the firebombing on behalf of a previously unknown group called “Revenge of the Trees.”
The same night, the Dai-Zen Egg Farm in Burlington was broken into, and someone stole 228 chickens. The Animal Liberation Front issued a communiqué saying the chickens had been placed in “loving homes.”
At 8:30 a.m. that day, a Penske rental truck with the same license as one rented by animal rights activist Allison Watson, a longtime friend of Lynn’s, pulled into an AM/PM Mini Market south of Olympia, according to court records. Store employees told FBI agents from the domestic terrorism squad that “the occupants of the truck dumped a number of plastic bags containing clothes in a Dumpster behind the store.”
A Thurston County sheriff’s deputy later found five bags containing “three sets of dark clothes, two black ski masks, three pairs of gloves, a wrapper from a pair of bolt cutters and a wrapper of wire ties.” The clothes were wet and covered with grass.
The FBI examined footage from the store’s surveillance camera and identified two people in the truck, Lynn and Joshua Trentor.
After Zilly ordered Lynn released, her activist friends were jubilant. Among them was Josh Harper, a member of the “SHAC 7” facing federal charges of conspiring to use illegal and coercive tactics to shut down a company that tests products on animals. SHAC, which stands for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, seeks to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a New Jersey product-testing company they say commits “horrendous animal cruelty.” In pursuit of that goal, activists have torched Huntingdon employees’ cars, vandalized shareholders’ homes and made threats against their families, according to an indictment.
Harper, who has been called to testify before grand juries on several occasions, yesterday slammed the juries as an assault on civil liberties.
“A person appearing before a grand jury has no right to hear testimony already given about them. Prosecutors have weeks before someone makes an appearance to prejudice the grand jury against them. And you don’t have any right to legal representation in a grand jury room.”
P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or firstname.lastname@example.org PAUL SHUKOVSKY, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER