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Activists face grand jury in releases of minks

Published: Thursday, Feb. 19 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Jordan Halliday and Jeremy Beckham wait outside the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Wednesday before Halliday's grand jury appearance.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A pair of animal rights activists were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, presumably investigating the release of thousands of minks from a pair of Utah farms.

Jordan Halliday, 21, and another activist were called to testify before the secret panel on Wednesday.

"I have no idea what it's about," Halliday told the Deseret News just before walking into the federal courthouse.

The young man was accompanied by his father and an attorney, having been handed a grand jury subpoena two weeks ago from an FBI agent. Halliday's father said the federal agent asked him about the August 2008 release of 300 minks from a South Jordan farm. Halliday said he had refused to talk to the FBI. He spent about 30 minutes before the grand jury on Wednesday, refusing to answer questions by claiming the subpoena hadn't been properly served on him.

"It's a little bit intimidating. I had to basically stay focused and do as I was advised by my lawyer," he said afterward.

The other activist was also called before the grand jury and apparently released. Animal rights activists declined to release details about that person.

Refusal to testify could land Halliday in jail for contempt of court. The secret grand jury proceedings do not permit an attorney present, something Halliday decried as "unconstitutional."

More than two dozen animal rights activists stood outside the courthouse Wednesday morning carrying signs with messages such as "Grand juries suck" and "Resist grand juries." Some put pieces of duct tape over their mouths. Others called the subpoenas "FBI harassment."

"I will always rally behind an animal activist that's undergoing this type of treatment," said Jeremy Beckham, a fellow activist who carried a sign that said "Support Jordan."

Federal authorities refused to comment on the case Wednesday.

"We don't comment on grand jury matters," said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for Utah.

The FBI also refused to comment on its investigations.

Federal authorities are investigating the release of minks at farms in South Jordan and Kaysville last year. More than 6,000 minks were released from Kaysville's Lodder Mink Farm in September. The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the raid, saying in a communique that breeding records were destroyed and trucks and equipment were vandalized by its "soldiers."

The group also said one "soldier" also claimed responsibility for 300 minks being released from McMullen Mink Farm in South Jordan in August.

"Good news, haven't seen this done in a while so it had to be done," the communique said.

The ALF is a loosely organized collective of hard-core animal rights activists. Its structure makes it difficult for law enforcement to pinpoint who organizes or carries out its activities. The FBI has branded the group a "domestic terrorist organization."

"Although I do support it, I am not affiliated with it," Halliday said.

Halliday said prosecutors were unhappy with his refusal to testify. He expects to be called before the grand jury again.

"I'm uncertain at this point," he said. "It seems they were just fishing for information."

E-MAIL: bwinslow@desnews.com