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Activist admits raid on company
Securities firm traded stock of animal testing research group.
By Missy Stoddard
August 17 2005
Heather Courtney is a peaceful environmentalist who met Timothy Hitchins at a Broward County restaurant frequented by vegetarians, according to her attorney.
When she joined Hitchins last December to protest a securities company that trades the stock of a pharmaceutical firm that uses animals for lab research, Courtney thought it would be peaceful, her attorney, Michael Salnick, said.
"Mr. Hitchins got her in over her head," Salnick said.
Courtney, a 26-year old University of Florida alumna who is attending graduate school in New York, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three misdemeanors -- trespassing in an occupied structure, disorderly conduct and wearing a mask at a demonstration.
As part of the plea agreement, Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown ordered Courtney to testify truthfully at Hitchins' trial. Courtney, of Fort Lauderdale, will be sentenced in October.
Dressed in black and shouting "Stop trading" into a megaphone, masked animal rights activists barged into the Juno Beach office of Seaboard Securities, demanding that Seaboard cease trading the stock of Huntingdon Life Sciences, which does research on animals, according to a police report.
"The individuals then proceeded to break a poinsettia plant ... a physical confrontation ensued between the employees and the masked individuals," the report reads.
The night before the Dec. 30 incident, Seaboard Securities' Tequesta office had been burglarized.
Nineteen computer monitors were smashed and paperwork was stolen.
Left behind was a note that read "A.L.F. Drop HLS!" referring to the Animal Liberation Front -- deemed a domestic terrorist group by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator involved with the burglary case -- and Huntingdon Life Sciences, according to court documents.
Authorities think Hitchins is involved with several animal rights groups, according to Assistant State Attorney Caroline Shepherd.
"We believe Mr. Hitchins was the organizer of the event that led to the attack at Seaboard Securities," she said.
The state plans to use a DNA sample from Hitchins to see if it matches the masks or bandanas found at Seaboard.
Salnick, Courtney's lawyer, said Hitchins planned the protest without considering the consequences for the others involved, including Courtney.
Missy Stoddard can be reached at email@example.com