Animal-rights activist avoids jail, but maintains innocence in protest
Thursday, April 8, 1999
By Kevin Lyons
WOODSTOCK - Animal-rights activist Steve Hindi will not go to jail for testing the bounds of a law designed to protect hunters' rights.
In January, a jury found Hindi, 44, of Geneva, guilty of three counts of unlawful hunter interference for flying a paraglider amid flocks of geese in September 1996 over the now-defunct Woodstock Hunt Club during a protest.
McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham sentenced Hindi to 18 months conditional discharge, $450 in fines and 150 hours of public service.
Hindi said he still believes his protest did not violate the law and railed against McHenry County officials whom he said protect more "canned" hunt clubs than any county in Illinois.
"For whatever reason, they have allowed McHenry County to become a toilet for animal serial killers," Hindi said.
McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Beaderstadt said Hindi's comments proved he had no remorse.
"Mr. Hindi's arrogance shows he has no regard for the laws of Illinois or its citizens," he said.
Prosecutors asked Graham to sentence Hindi to the maximum six months in the McHenry County Jail and $500 fines on each count.
"I think that type of sentence would seriously deter Mr. Hindi and others from committing the same or like crimes," Beaderstadt said.
But defense attorney Rick Halprin compared Hindi's actions to minorities who challenged civil-rights laws in the 1960's.
Hindi is the president of Showing Animals Respect and kindness, a Chicago-area animal-rights organization.
He previously had been convicted of criminal mischief, criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct for actions related to protests in Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Halprin said Hindi was trying to test the First Amendment limits of a new Illinois law he believes was written solely to curb animal protests.
He said even police and prosecutors were testing the law on Hindi.
"It would be ludicrous to describe both the case and the prosecution as anything but a test by both sides," Halprin said.
He also rejected prosecutors' arguments that a jail sentence was necessary to deter future protesters who violate the law.
"Who are you going to deter by incarcerating Mr. Hindi for six months -- other people who believe in a better world for animals?" Halprin said.
Beaderstadt said Hindi was not convicted for engaging in a lawful protest.
"It was not his beliefs that were on trial, It was his conduct," Beaderstadt said.
In his ruling, Graham said he was sentencing Hindi only on the basis of his conviction and could find no reason that a jail sentence was appropriate.
"I'm not determining the rights of animals, the rights of people who support the rights of animals nor people who hunt," Graham said in his ruling. "I'm sitting in determination of criminal matters that were brought."
Graham also said he did not believe a jail sentence would have a deterrent effect on Hindi.
"I kind of believe Mr. Hindi is going to do what he's going to do," Graham said. "But he has to be mindful of the consequences."
Hindi already has served 55 days in the McHenry County Jail for contempt of a court order obtained in a civil suit by the Woodstock Hunt Club prohibiting him from flying over the club. Damages in that suit are pending.
Hindi was one of several protesters using bullhorns and sirens to discourage hunters from taking Canada geese.