Judge acquits animal-rights activist in rodeo incident
Thursday, September 7, 2000
THE COURIER NEWS
By Gloria Carr
ST. CHARLES township- An acquittal on a felony eavesdropping charge stemming from a Kane county Fair protest rejuvenated activist Steven Hindi's efforts on behalf of animal rights.
"I'm fired up. I've got more of an appetite for rodeos than I ever have before," said Hindi after his acquittal Wednesday.
The Elburn resident was arrested in July 1999 during a rodeo at the Kane County Fairgrounds. The Kane County State 's Attorney's Office charged Hindi with felony eavesdropping because he recorded a conversation with a St. Charles police officer.
Sixteenth Circuit Judge James Doyle acquitted Hindi based on the content of the taped conversation, the length of the tape and Hindi's disclosure to the officer that he had a tape recorder running.
A transcript of the conversation sowed Hindi apparently was concerned about abiding by the law because he wanted to take a photo but had seen signs prohibiting flash photography, Doyle said. His conversation with the officer began with Hindi asking whether photos were allowed.
As a precaution, Hindi said he was tape-recording the conversation. He said he was afraid the police would arrest him if he began taking photos and wanted to make sure he had a record of the officer telling him it was fine.
Defense attorney Rich Halprin maintained Hindi had the right to record the conversation because it occurred in a public place and police officers can be recorded without consent because they are public officials.
'This case is not complicated'
Doyle found Hindi had made it known he was using a tape recorder within seconds of the conversation.
Additionally, St. Charles police Sgt. Brad Griffin testified Tuesday that officers had been briefed about a possible protest at the fair and that Hindi's name had been mentioned. He was described by police as working "on the edge of extremism." Griffin said officers were warned that Hindi might try to videotape or try to goad police with a tape recorder.
The judge said his conclusion-without getting into any political aspects about animal rights activists-was that Hindi did not violate the stated eavesdropping statutes.
"The evidence in this case is not complicated here. The evidence is pretty strait forward" that Hindi did not violate the law, Doyle said.
"It was so nice the judge saw it for what it was," said Hindi, who believes prosecutors and police targeted him because of his stance on animal rights.
He said he felt he was a target because of his past protests, and prosecutors and police, were covering up for those running the rodeo, whom Hindi described as animal abusers.
"Every single hearing, every time I had to think about it, every dollar we had to put out made me more determined to never back down to this kind of tyranny," he said.
'Trying to destroy my life'
Over the past year, Hindi said he would glance at the list of cases in the third floor of the Kane County Judicial Center and find his name among those suspected of serious felonies, such as attempted murder and aggravated assault.
"They were trying to turn me into a convicted felon. They were trying to destroy my reputation and trying to destroy my life," he said. "This is the worst charge I've ever faced…It was so ridiculous."
Yet, he said, "nothing that I or we as activists go through approximates anything they go through on a regular basis," referring to the injuries sustained by calves in rodeos, including twisted necks, electric prodding and broken bones.
A former hunter who has transformed his life, Hindi said he is more determined to continue fighting for animal rights and exposing injustices.
"I as an individual don't matter that much," he said. "The cause here is the animals, who can't speak up for themselves. They can do what they want to me, but the suffering of these animals can go on and on if someone doesn't stop it. Those victims are worth that to me."
He still hunts, he added.
"I just hunt a different target," Hindi said.
"I hunt with cameras instead of guns," he continued. "It's far more satisfying."