It's no secret that animal rights activists aren't too fond of the medical experiments being done at UCLA.
Faculty members and researchers have been on the scary end of bombs, letters filled with razor blades, vandalism and verbal threats.
In response, UCLA admits that it has taken steps to keep its researchers safe, including monitoring protests and protesters.
But a small handful of animal rights activists say the school has gone way too far and are suing the UCLA police department in federal court, claiming that school officers are harassing and intimidating them and denying them the right to free speech.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Laura Ashmore, Pamelyn Ferdin, Carol Glasser and Nicoal Sheen, the four women began marching in front of the homes of several researchers in 2006 as part of a peaceful “education campaign.” For four years, they, along with others, protested twice a month on the sidewalks, maintaining, they say, a legally required 100-foot buffer from the private residences.
The animal rights activists claim that UCLA researchers are experimenting on monkeys, placing them in restraints and injecting them with “large doses” of illegal drugs, such as PCP and crystal meth. The alleged purpose is to replicate and learn about addiction. Once the tests are over, the activists claim, the monkeys are killed and tossed into the garbage.
According to the lawsuit, UCLA police have been monitoring the activists' activities, sitting in unmarked cars and taking their pictures with “high powered cameras” before scheduled protests, as well as following them to dinner and threatening them with arrest in order to scare them.
On May 15, the activists claim, they were protesting outside of a UCLA researcher's off-campus home when a dozen UCLA police officers surrounded them and ordered them to drop their protest signs and sit on the ground with their hands behind their backs.
All of the plaintiffs, except Ferdin, were arrested for allegedly violating the city law that says protesters must keep 100 feet from a private residence. In the lawsuit, the activists claim that university police are targeting and harassing them because of their anti-animal research message.
UCLA officials, however, say it simply isn't so.
“We believe this [lawsuit] is an attempt by extremists to draw attention to their cause,” UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton tells LA Weekly. “I'm not going to connect those four individuals to some of the serious criminal activity we've seen, [but] this is UCLA carefully monitoring these demonstrations at the home of researchers to strictly enforce noise and distance municipal codes designed to protect people from criminal harassment.”
One of the issues, says Hampton, is that animal rights activists usually “put up inflammatory images, shoot epithets and have a history of frightening children while demonstrating at the homes. We think the allegations are groundless and without merit, and we're merely trying to protect our researchers while allowing for the free and open exchange of ideas.”