by Nathan Crabbe (Gainesville Sun)
After winning one legal battle with the University of Florida over public records, animal rights activist Camille Marino is now fighting to find out the location of animal research labs — information that she insists won’t put researchers in danger.
Her assertion is at odds with sometimes violent rhetoric on the website of the group she founded, Negotiation is Over, including statements that led to felony charges against her in Michigan.
UF researcher Raymond Bergeron also accuses Marino of threatening to burn down his Gainesville home, an allegation that is being investigated for possible local charges.
Negotiation is Over held protests last weekend at Bergeron’s home and at the University City Church of Christ in Gainesville, a church that has no discernible connection to animal research. Marino, a Wildwood resident, denies issuing the threat against Bergeron but makes no apologies for using in-your-face tactics to protest research that she equates with torture of animals.
“Our tax dollars pay for this and our silence allows it to happen,” she said.
Her Gainesville attorney, Marcy LaHart, filed a brief Monday in the First District Court of Appeal to seek the location of research labs. A circuit court judge had denied the request based on a public-records exemption for security system plans, while granting access to other records on primates involved in research.
LaHart said the law was “stretched beyond any reasonable interpretation” to allow the locations to be withheld. UF Deputy Chief of Police Darren Baxley said that keeping information on university facilities and their capabilities from public view helps deter crimes from being committed.
The department must balance protecting UF students and employees with respecting First Amendment rights, he said, but Marino’s tactics seem to go beyond free speech.
“She relishes putting researchers and their families in a state of fear,” he said. “We don’t approve of those tactics and we think that may cross the line from protected speech to possibly committing a crime.”
The group’s tactics have included trying to publicly identify students involved in animal research and pressuring alumni and donors to speak against such research. Marino said gory pictures that she obtained of UF animals involved in research, recently posted on the Negotiation is Over website, add credence to her claims that animal research is torture.
She’s posted personal information online about a half-dozen UF employees that she claims are connected to such research, which university officials say has led to harassment and threats. UF successfully pushed the Legislature to expand the state’s stalking law to include electronically delivered threats, a change taking effect in October, to address the issue.
Marino said she’s never done anything violent and said charges being pursued against her are a “desperate attempt” to silence her.
She is scheduled to appear Friday in a Michigan courtroom in a case involving posting personal information about a Wayne State University researcher and statements that she hoped he would “die a slow painful death.” She’s trying to get charges of aggravated stalking and unlawful posting of messages online, both five-year felonies, and trespassing dismissed on free-speech grounds.
In Bergeron’s case, he filed complaints in February against Marino and another Negotiation is Over member, accusing them of felony intimidation. He alleges that a threat to burn down his home was followed by a statement questioning whether his house was “still standing.”
The State Attorney’s Office continues to investigate for possible charges. Marino’s house was raided last month by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and computer equipment seized in connection to the case.
Negotiation is Over’s website has targeted Bergeron, a UF College of Pharmacy professor, for animals used in research that includes looking into the causes of and drugs that treat diseases such as a rare anemia disease in children. After this weekend’s protests at Bergeron’s home, Marino posted a message on Facebook saying that activists were “setting up camp” for three days and intended to follow Bergeron everywhere he went.
She said Monday that may have happened but declined additional comment.
“I don’t want any stalking charges,” she said.
Group members also protested Sunday at the University City Church of Christ. Rich Howell, senior minister of the church, sent an email to Marino in which he said that she was “barking up the wrong tree” in protesting there.
“I know you care deeply for the animals you are trying to protect, but we are not involved or responsible for any such actions,” he wrote.
Marino said the church is part of the community and should take a stand against animal research.
“They’ve got the right to know what their taxes are being spent on and they’ve got an obligation as community members to protest what’s going on,” she said.