By Chris Mellides
A protest by animal rights activists outside the home of a construction company executive in Huntington Bay got out of hand Saturday night, village police said, when two people tried to scale the man’s house to hang a sign for neighbors to see.
A group of 150 activists led by organizers from the New York City Animal Defense League marched from Heckscher Park in Huntington starting at around 1:15 p.m. to the home of Skanska USA Chief Executive Richard Cavallaro. Skanska is the general contractor for a project to build a $123 million underground animal research lab at the University of Washington in Seattle.
While Cavallaro maintains that the project to build the facility on the university campus has been “federally and state approved,” and that there is nothing illegal about the work Skanska has been hired to do, the activist group believes the lab will perpetuate animal cruelty.
“We’ve gathered here in the neighborhood of Richard Cavallaro to protest what he and his company are doing,” said Jay Johnson, a Brooklyn resident and NYC Animal Defense League organizer. “All of the rhetoric just draws attention away from the mistreatment and cruelty towards animals and frames activism in a negative light. If Skanska pulls their contract, the likelihood of the facility plans taking off the ground amid all of the public pressure is highly unlikely.”
Once protesters reached Cavallaro’s home, they proceeded to chant for about an hour before two activists broke away from the group and attempted to scale Cavallaro’s house using a ladder to display a banner for his neighbors to see, according to Huntington Bay Mayor Herb Morrow.
“They absolutely have the right to protest because of their feelings on the topic and our police will protect protesters when they do protest,” Morrow said. “But they will also protect residents when their homes are invaded.”
Huntington Bay Chief of Police Christopher Jack said Christopher Litchfield, 24, and Tyler Correa, 21, were arrested shortly after 3 p.m. and charged with third-degree criminal trespassing. The $100 bond set for each of them was raised by other protesters following the incident.
“There was seven of us up there along with eight Suffolk County police officers trying to maintain the order and at the same time keep people safe and do what we can to get them out of there as fast as possible,” said Christopher Jack, police chief of Huntington Bay. “This was part of what they call a national call to action…So this was their super bowl, if you would, of protesting.”
The two arrested demonstrators are due to appear in village court on March 22.
Cavallaro, who said he and his family were shaken up by the incident, feels the protesters went too far.
“It is hard to negotiate with somebody who is not logical. This is not logical what they’re doing. It’s not right and I’m completely frustrated by the group,” Cavallaro said. “Sneaking on my property with a ladder, coming through neighbors’ backyards with a ladder and attempting to get on my roof equals criminal activity significantly more than harassment.”
--With Janee Law