Animal rights protesters who disrupted Chick-Fil-A also targeted fishermen

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017, 10:33 PM EDT

Animal liberation protesters who disrupted “Cow Appreciation Day” at a Pinellas Park Chick-Fil-A also targeted a St. Petersburg family who were fishing at Crescent Lake Park on Tuesday.

  • Protest group named Direct Action Everywhere Pinellas
  • Protester threw fish the family had caught back into water
  • Police called, but no arrests made

“I’m glad that we were able to keep our cool and stay collected,” said fisherman Bob Hope. “As you can see in the video, we were the better people.”

Hope said his father caught a nice-sized tilapia they were going to take home and eat for dinner.

That’s when he said the protesters sent over a young boy between the ages of 8-to-10-years-old to scold the fishermen.

“A little child approached us and said, ‘You know, fish have feelings and you’re hurting that fish, and I want you to stop fishing,’” Hope said. “So, I turned to the young man and said, ‘I respect your opinions, son and that’s fine, but I’m not breaking any laws doing what I’m doing. So, I’m going to continue to fish.’”

Hope said the tilapia was flopping around on the ground as a bucket was being retrieved. A protester then approached the family and said he was going to throw the fish back into the lake.

“My father said, ‘no, you’re not’ and my mom actually walked over and put her foot onto the fish,” said Hope. “Well, the man took her leg, physically removed her leg, picked our fish up and threw it back into the water.

"An invasive species, tilapia," he continued, "that’s not even legal to return back to the water once it’s caught.”

An argument erupted, and Hope said he called St. Petersburg Police to file a complaint. He was later disappointed by the investigating officer’s response.

“It’s not fair that my rights were not important enough for them to uphold the law,” Hope said. “I think they should have been arrested. I think they should have been charged with something, because otherwise they’re just going to continue to do it.”

Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said by the time the officer arrived the protesters were getting in their cars, and the primary concern was to keep the peace. Fernandez said the officer did not witness any criminal activity, and the officer acted appropriately under the circumstances.

"A peaceful demonstration"

Just hours before the fish incident, the same group, which calls itself "Direct Action Everywhere Pinellas," went into a Chick-Fil-A location in Pinellas Park and caused a disturbance in which a protester held a fake knife and simulated cutting the throats of people wearing a cow and chicken costumes.

During the demonstration, the protesters shouted, “it’s not food, it’s violence.”

In regards to that incident, Pinellas Park Police said the group left before they arrived. Most likely, had they still been there they would have only been trespassed from the fast food restaurant.

According to St. Petersburg Police, two of the protesters, Kayla and Michael Leaming, live in Saint Cloud. The Leamings posted on a joint Facebook page that they went to the Chick-Fil-A to do “a peaceful demonstration” and “the customers were being extremely aggressive.”

The Leamings also expressed pride in the results of their actions in regards to the media coverage they garnered.

“We had three news stations cover this story, and thousands of people are talking about veganism, who otherwise wouldn’t have," they said in their post. "Great job to everyone involved!”

Hope said the group needs to choose better spots to hold their protests.

“They’re choosing the vulnerable to protest in front of. They’re choosing the children,” he said. “They were at Chick-Fil-A in front of lots of children. There’s a park 50-feet behind us … that was full of children.”

We were unable to reach representatives of "Direct Action Everywhere Pinellas" for comment on this story.