Beaver County pays pig farm Pioneer Day protesters more than $52K in federal civil rights settlement

ST. GEORGE — A man found guilty of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct at a Beaver Pioneer Day event will be receiving a share of $52,000 and legal fees from Beaver County after it agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. 

Direct Action Everywhere advocate Curtis Vollmar during his trespassing and disorderly conduct trial at the Beaver County Justice Court, Beaver, Utah, April 25, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Curtis Vollmar was convicted in 2022 for passing out leaflets supportive of defendants who were later cleared of pig theft. He is appealing an April guilty verdict in a separate criminal case.

Vollmar is among the five plaintiffs receiving the monetary award in a settlement of a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Vollmar, animal rights groups Direct Action Everywhere and the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, and two others who represented the two groups at the July 23, 2022, event at Beaver’s Main Street Park. 

They say their First Amendment rights were violated when police forced them to vacate the park and a nearby sidewalk after distributing leaflets and speaking to residents in support of the defendants in the Smithfield Circle Four Farms trial. 

In that trial last October, after the judge ordered a venue change from Beaver to St. George, the two who were also part of Direct Action Everywhere were found not guilty of burglary when they took two piglets from a Milford pork production facility.

Vollmar told St. George News that “most” of the monetary award of damages and legal fees will be going to animal charities and shelters, including the one where the two piglets,  Lily and Lizzie, were taken. 

“I’m happy that it’s a win for free speech in Beaver and I’m happy that these funds are going to go toward the animals,” Vollmar said. 

(L-R) Paul Picklesimer and Wayne Hsiung, who were acquitted in an October trial in St. George of burglary and trespassing at a Millford, Utah pork facility, with the grown Lizzie and Lity that they say they rescued as piglets, Erie, Colo., Oct. 13, 2022 | Photo courtesy Direct Action Everywhere, St. George News

Vollmar, of Berkeley, Calif., also revealed that one of the two now-adult pigs recently passed away from health issues, though he didn’t identify which one. Nevertheless, a co-plaintiff with Vollmar in the civil suit said it is a victory that the county is now helping to pay for the medical care of the remaining pig. 

“I’m glad to see Beaver County paying towards the veterinary and life care expenses for the pigs who suffered at Smithfield, animals the county should have protected from abuse in the first place,” Direct Action Everywhere activist and Salt Lake City resident Max Corwin said in an e-mail statement. 

Beaver County officials have said the animal activists have been a public disruption and partially to blame for the layoff of around 250 workers from Smithfield Foods’ facilities in Beaver County. Based on its U.S. Census population of 6,594, one of every four workers in Beaver County works for Smithfield Foods.

Along with Beaver County, Cameron Noel, then sheriff of Beaver County, was a defendant in the federal civil case along with the deputies seen in videos provided by Direct Action Everywhere confronting Vollmar – Warren Woolsey and Lonnie Laws. Noel retired in January. 

In a file photo, Beaver Sheriff Sgt. Warren Woolsey is seen in a picture from a video taken by Curtis Vollmar outside Main Street Park, Beaver, Utah, July 23, 2022 | Photo from video courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere, St. George News

Under the same 2022 incident that resulted in the civil rights judgment, 5th District Judge Shadrach C. Bradshaw found Vollmar guilty of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. While the crimes carried as much as six months of jail time, Vollmar was sentenced to an $850 fine. 

Bradshaw said he agreed with the argument of prosecutors that Main Street Park, while listed as a city park on Beaver’s website, is private property. The city leases the land Main Street Park sits on from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Vollmar is appealing that verdict, making the argument that was also made in the civil rights lawsuit that even if a facility is owned by a private entity, First Amendment rights apply because it is reserved for use by a city. He also argues that the sidewalk outside the park is not private property.

Beaver County Deputy Attorney Leo Kanell, the prosecutor in the criminal case, said he was unaware of the federal settlement when contacted by St. George News.

“I’m just a lowly prosecutor. I’m not in the loop. I don’t make those decisions,” Kanell said. “We’re just covered by insurance so I’m not surprised.”

Beaver County Deputy Attorney Leo Kanell during Direct Action Everywhere advocate Curtis Vollmar’s trespassing and disorderly conduct trial at the Beaver County Justice Court, Beaver, Utah, April 25, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Sept. 13 in a remote video hearing before 5th District Judge G. Michael Westfall. 

The hearing will be a resolution hearing to hear a possible plea deal between the county and Vollmar according to Kanell, who noted the deal stems from him reading a St. George News article on the appeal that included Vollmer asking for a deal where the guilty verdict would be held in abeyance during a probation period, then dismissed if the terms of the probation are met.

“We had effective negotiations through St. George News,” Kanell said. “I read what they wanted and prepared a plea bargain.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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