Activist who refused grand jury testimony now charged with conspiracy

Published 4:25 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Minnesota activist who refused to testify earlier this week before a federal grand jury in Davenport is now charged with conspiracy for an act of “animal enterprise terrorism” — believed to be a 2004 animal-rights vandalism act at the University of Iowa.

Scott DeMuth, 22, made his initial appearance this morning on a charge of conspiracy. DeMuth was already in custody for contempt of court because of his refusal to testify. Fellow activist Carrie Feldman, who at one time dated DeMuth, also refused to testify and is in custody.

“Scott Ryan DeMuth did knowingly and intentionally conspire with persons unknown to the grand jury to commit animal enterprise terrorism and cause economic damage to the animal enterprise in an amount exceeding $10,000,” the indictment unsealed today says.

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The indictment does not specifically say the charge is in connection to the University of Iowa action. However, the time frame and indication that it was in Johnson County match. Furthermore, federal authorities considered the extensive vandalism an act of terrorism. And DeMuth and Feldman both have said the Nov. 14 vandalism is what federal authorities wanted them to testify about.

DeMuth is being held in the Muscatine County Jail. Feldman is in the Washington County Jail.

The FBI was called in to investigate the November 2004 vandalism and break-in at the University of Iowa’s Spence Laboratories and Seashore Hall.

The Animal Liberation Front, an underground animal-rights activist group, claimed responsibility for the damage to lab equipment and the release of 88 mice and 313 rats used in psychology department experiments. The break-in was designated as domestic terrorism.

UI officials estimated the damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and offered a $10,000 reward for tips leading to identification of the vandals. The university also increased security at its labs after the break-in.

A 50-minute video released to the media by ALF after the break-in showed at least four masked people had access to electronic keys and took their time as they ransacked the laboratories.

David Skorton, then president of the university, condemned the destruction and the implied threat to researchers in an e-mail, which listed researcher names, home addresses and phone numbers. The e-mail was posted on a Web site that posts reports of ALF activity.

The environment for researchers at the university, Skorton said, was “permanently altered.”

ALF, according to its Web site, is “a loosely associated collection of cells of people who intentionally violate the law in order to free animals from captivity and the horrors of exploitation.” The people in one cell do not know people in other cells to “prevent legal authorities from breaking up the organization.”

They break into buildings to release animals, destroy property and use intimidation to “prevent further animal abuse and murder,” the site says.

Feldman, 20, and DeMuth, both from Minneapolis, were ordered held Tuesday until they decide to testify before the grand jury, Judge John Jarvey ruled. Their confinement could be for the term of the grand jury — which they believe has 11 months remaining — or until the end of this proceeding, federal code says. The longest they can be held is 18 months.

It is unclear whether DeMuth’s civil contempt still stands.

About 40 people from across the Midwest traveled to support Feldman and DeMuth, who spoke at a rally outside the courthouse in downtown Davenport before their appearance. The protesters were met by a heavy police presence.