Cops Eye Animal Rights Extremists in Attack on Marine Biologist

Photo: Police Suspect Animal Rights Extremists Behind Attack on UC Santa Cruz ResearcherKGO/ABC News
The entire brake system of an SUV belonging to a UC Santa Cruz Marine Biology professor and researcher was allegedly disabled over the weekend and police say they suspect it may be the work of an animal rights extremist group.

Police suspect a radical animal rights group in the sabotaging of brakes on the car of a marine biologist researcher in Santa Cruz, Calif., and a spokesman for one militant group did not rule it out.

The vehicle was parked on a steep hill and police said the brake lines and the cable for the emergency brake had been cut, Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez told ABCNews.com.

The researcher's wife discovered the damage to the car on Sunday when she spotted a pool of brake fluid beneath the vehicle when she about to drive it.

"Luckily the spouse spotted the damage and didn't operate the vehicle," Martinez said.

"Upon full inspection we discovered the entire brake system had been disabled," said Martinez. He said the Santa Cruz police have brought in the FBI.

"We're bringing in as many resources as we can and we're not missing a single shred of evidence," Martinez said.

The officer said animal rights groups have been involved in other attacks on researchers in the Santa Cruz area in recent years. Martinez said that police believe that one of those organization may be involved in cutting the researcher's brakes due to his work in the biology field.

Dr. Jerry Vlasak is the press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Front and said he didn't know whether the group was involved in the incident, but didn't rule it out.

"We haven't received any sort of communiqué. We may receive it later. Sometimes it appears a week or two, a month or two later," Vlasak told ABC News.

Vlasak said he is not involved in the activities of the underground members of ALF, but simply a spokesperson to communicate their activities.

"If this guy had done animal research, I would say this was a justified action," Vlasak said.

Martinez said the researcher whose car was sabotaged did not use animals in his work, but Vlasak was not convinced.

"The fact they said he's not doing animal research doesn't hold a lot of water with me. These guys are notorious for spinning it how they want to spin it," Vlasak said about the authorities.

History of Attacks By Animal Rights Groups

According to Martinez the researcher and his family are recovering from their ordeal.

"They're obviously shaken, nobody expects to be targeted simply because of your employment," Martinez said.

"The researcher is fairly known for positive work in environmental conservation, so I don't really understand why... A lot of people know who he is and they are now angry because they know the legitimate work the researcher does to help environment," he said.

Martinez pointed to several past incidents involving involving college researchers and animal rights groups as to why authorities believe that may be the case once again.

In 2009 four animal rights activists were arrested for a series of incidents involving UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley researchers, including entering the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher in February 2008 and attacking her husband, according to court documents.

The arrests were made by the joint terrorism task force and the four were charged with using force, violence, or threats to interfere with the operation of the University of California in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Those four have all pled not guilty and the trial is ongoing.

Also in 2008 people who police say have ties to animal rights extremist groups allegedly firebombed the home of one UC Santa Cruz researcher, as well as the car of another. No arrests have been made in those two incidents and although police have said they suspect members of an animal rights extremist group.

Vlasak said in those two incidents nobody has come forward claiming responsibility, but he suspects if those targeted did in fact conduct research and testing on animals as reported it was most likely people involved with the Animal Liberation Front.

"Seems to me they were affiliated with Animal Liberation Front," Vlasak said.

On the North American Animal Liberation Front's Website, the group takes responsibility for recently burning down a sheepskin factory in Denver, Colo., as well as placing an "incendiary device" in the exhaust pipe of a car belonging to a primate researcher in La Jolla, Calif.

Vlasak said the fight for animal liberation is comparable to any past liberation attempts by humans and the violence seen at times is a moral and neccesarry step to get results.

"It just happens to be a different species this time rather than a different race or people," Vlasak said.

Calls to the University of Santa Cruz were not immediately returned.