Tape case vs. Hindi is erased

Incident at rodeo: Public officials lack same privacy right

Friday, October 29, 1999

The Beacon News (Aurora, IL)

By Joel Patenaude

ST. CHARLES – A Kane County judge Thursday dismissed a felony charge of eavesdropping against animal rights activist Steve Hindi.

Hindi was arrested in July after admittedly recording an argument between himself and a St. Charles police officer who declined to stop a rodeo under way at the Kane County Fairgrounds or cite its organizers for animal cruelty.

Instead, Hindi was arrested for eavesdropping and jailed overnight.

To use a device to hear or record a conversation without the consent of all parties is illegal under state law, but, according to a motion filed by Hindi's attorney and agreed to by the Kane County State's Attorney's Office Thursday, "a public official (such as a) police officer speaking to a member of the public does not enjoy a right of privacy."

The motion to dismiss the charge was granted by 16th Circuit Court Judge James Doyle.

Attorney Rick Halprin said the arrest of Hindi, his client, "looks to me like harassment because he is an unpopular figure at rodeos."

"What was the hurry unless they didn't want him hanging around the fairgrounds screaming about animal rights?" he asked.

Joe McMahon, chief of the state's attorney's criminal division, said a colleague who authorized the eavesdropping charge the day of the rodeo "certainly thought it was appropriate then."

After reviewing the relevant case law Thursday morning, McMahon said, "We agreed with the defendant's motion" to dismiss the charge.

Pictures for officers

According to the St. Charles police report of the incident, Assistant State's Attorney Jim Guagliardo was consulted by telephone as the rodeo proceeded.

Guagliardo disagreed that Hindi had sufficient evidence to charge rodeo officials with inhumane treatment of their livestock, but the prosecutor did authorize Hindi's arrest on a Class 4 felony charge of eavesdropping for taping his conversation with St. Charles Police Officer Lori York.

Halprin argued Guagliardo should have known Hindi had not violated the law, a position Hindi supported.

"They don't want to press charges against animal cruelty, although we have pretty compelling evidence, but they'll jump in right away and arrest me," he said.

Hindi and his girlfriend, Donna Hertel, had presented the officers with photographs she said she had taken at the rodeo earlier that day. The photos showed bulls being prodded in chutes with hand-held shocking devices and calves either having their tails pulled or dragged over gates.

According to the police report, Kane County Sheriff's Sgt. Brad Griffin told Hindi state law does not prohibit the use of shocking devices. He also said professional rodeo associations disagree whether the devices should be used on animals during performances.

For the past several years, Hindi and other members of the organization Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) have photographed and videotaped rodeos at county fairs throughout Illinois.

Local government officials, however, have not agreed to ban rodeos based on the images and accusations made by Hindi.

St. Charles police have declined to return to Hindi his tape recorder and the tape without a court order, which the department can require, Halprin said.

"They are afraid I'm going to let everyone listen to the tape," Hindi said, "which is pretty much what I planned to do."

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