STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – Circus employees threw liquid bleach on an animal rights activist and encouraged a dog to attack another one during a demonstration against alleged elephant abuse, a woman claims in Superior Court.
Shannon Campbell sued the Carson & Barnes Circus and its employee Benjamin Robert Savage in San Joaquin County Court. Savage is the only individual defendant, though several other circus employees are named in the complaint.
Campbell describes herself as a member of Humanity Through Education, “a San Francisco Bay Area grassroots group dedicated to the humane treatment of animals through public education, including education regarding the abuse and mistreatment of animals in circuses.”
Campbell says She and her group protest animal cruelty at circuses by putting up signs, passing out leaflets, and videotaping circus workers’ treatment of animals.
Campbell claims that her “speech and association is on matters of great public concern locally, nationally and internationally-the abuse and mistreatment of animals, including but not limited to endangered species, lions, and Asian elephants-by circuses and other ‘entertainment’ entities.”
She claims that Humanity Through Education, PETA, and other animal rights groups have targeted Carson & Barnes circus for its alleged mistreatment of elephants.
According to the complaint: “In 2002, an undercover video of Carson & Barnes elephant ‘training’ was released by animal rights group PETA … showing the circus’s ‘head trainer,’ Tim Frisco, teaching his trainees to use a bullock (a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker), and an electric prod to hit, jab and hook elephants with, to the point of making the elephants scream in pain, to force the elephant’s compliance with the trainer’s commands. [Parentheses in complaint.]
“Carson & Barnes Circus’ head elephant trainer, Tim Frisco, is heard on the video telling his trainers not to ‘touch’ the elephants but to ‘hurt ’em’ and ‘make ’em scream.’ Frisco told his trainers that ‘when you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention. If you’re scared to hit ’em, don’t come into the barn, You can’t do it on the road. I’m not going to touch her in front of a thousand people. She’s gonna f—ing do what I want and that’s just f—ing the way it is.'” (Expletives deleted in complaint.)
Campbell claims the Carson & Barnes Circus has a history of “assaulting, battering, blocking and harassing the activists” when they hold demonstrations and try to videotape the animals.
She claims that at a 2004 demonstration in Oakland, circus manager Gustavo Parra-Bello and an unknown employee “battered Humanity Through Education member Pat Cuvielo as he walked onto a lot to leaflet circus patrons. … The unknown Carson & Barnes employee was holding a leashed dog as he battered Mr. Cuvielo. At the same time Carson & Barnes agent Jennifer Johns battered another activist as he entered the lot to leaflet patrons. The activists called the Oakland Police, who told the circus that the activists had a right to access the property for free speech purposes,” the complaint states.
Campbell claims that another incident 4 years later resulted in a lawsuit.
“On Sept. 13, 2006, during the Carson & Barnes Circus performance at The Cow Palace, three unknown Carson & Barnes employees attacked Humanity Through Education member Mark Ennis while he was videotaping the elephants as they came out of circus tent. The battery was directed at Ennis’s camera and ceased when the employees had ripped the viewfinder off of Ennis’s camera, which was unusable after the attack,” the complaint states.
“As a result of these incidences Mr. Ennis and Ms. Bolbol filed a federal lawsuit against Carson & Barnes Circus, Parra-Bello and three Carson & Barnes employees, which the circus paid $172,000 to settle outside of court,” the complaint states.
Despite the lawsuit and police orders to let activists demonstrate, Campbell claims circus employees assaulted her and Mark Ennis at the circus’s 2009 performance in Tracy.
She claims a circus manager threatened Ennis with a large, barking dog while he was shooting footage of the elephants at the back of the circus tent.
“Within a few minutes after Ennis began videotaping the elephants and the handlers circus manager Julo Cavallini approached Ennis with a huge dog on a leash and stopped and stood within a few feet of Ennis. Cavallini told Ennis ‘don’t go near the dog.’ Cavallini then took a step toward Ennis and shook the dog’s leash encouraging the dog to lunge at Ennis,” the complaint states.
Campbell claims that Ennis moved twice so he could film the elephants, and Cavallini followed him, eventually forcing him onto a road.
“While Ennis was in the road Cavallini again allowed the dog to lunge at Ennis, further putting Ennis in danger of physical harm from the roadway traffic,” the complaint states.
Though he never released the dog, Cavallini encouraged it to threaten Ennis while keeping it away from everyone else, according to the complaint.
Campbell claims she was attacked later that evening: “(W)hile wearing a protest sign, plaintiff Shannon Campbell walked down the sidewalk towards the back of the circus tent when defendant Benjamin Savage, standing in a circus trailer, threw a buck of liquid on Ms. Campbell, soaking her body, sign, and face with the liquid,” which smelled like bleach, the complaint states.
Campbell says she immediately called the police and demanded they arrest Savage for battery.
Campbell accuses the circus owners of condoning and supporting the attacks against her and other animal rights activists.
“Carson & Barnes Circus, its owners and managers not only employed staff members who they knew were reckless and dangerous but actually encouraged and joined the employees in such reckless and dangerous behavior,” the complaint states.
Campbell says the circus has a history of harassing animal rights activists.
“On numerous occasions, defendant Carson & Banes Circus has carried out its policy of using threats, intimidation, coercion and actual violence to interfere with and chill animal rights activists, including Ms. Campbell and other members of Humanity Through Education, in the exercise of their free speech rights on both public and private property, where the activists’ constitutionally protected free speech rights are without question guaranteed,” the complaint states.
Campbell seeks punitive damages for mental suffering, emotional distress and constitutional violations, and a civil penalty of $25,000 against the circus and Savage.
She is represented by G. Whitney Leigh with of Gonzalez & Leigh, of San Francisco.