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James Cromwell arrested for protesting alleged cat abuse

Vera Anderson / Getty Images file

James Cromwell was arrested on Thursday for disorderly conduct.

Updated at 1:52 p.m. PT Feb. 8: Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell was arrested Thursday after interrupting a Board of Regents meeting at the University of Wisconsin to protest the school's alleged abuse of cats, his publicist and the UW Madison Police Department confirmed to TODAY.com.

"This morning there was a Board of Regents meeting held on campus in one of our academic buildings," Lt. Mark Silbernagel said. "During the course of that meeting, two people interrupted that meeting, one being James Cromwell." He identified the other man as Jeremy Beckham. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said on its website that the man is one of the organization's staff members.

PETA posted the video of the protest to YouTube. In the clip, the actor can be seen entering the meeting room while holding a PETA sign that featured the image of a cat with a metal implement attached to its head. The animal right's group identified the cat as Double Trouble, and said that according to the university's records, the feline was killed and decapitated.

"Regents are looking the other way while UW Medicine lies to the public about abusing cats and squandering taxpayers’ money on cruel and wasteful experiments," Cromwell can be heard saying in the video. "As many as 30 cats a year at UW have had holes drilled in their skulls metal poles implanted into their eyes. They are deafened, starved for days at a time and then are decapitated. This is not science! This is torture! And it is criminal!"

The actor, who recently starred in the second season of "American Horror Story," is a supporter of PETA, and had previously filmed a video for the organization, urging people to help end the cycle of violence against animals.

Lt. Silbernagel said that both Cromwell and Beckham were arrested by officers of the UW Police Dept., were transported to the local jail and charged with disorderly conduct. He added that the meetings are open to the public, but that they are not an open forum. "If guests want to speak, they have to register in advance," Silbernagel said.

On Friday, Cromwell shared his statement regarding his protest with TODAY.com:

After my friends at PETA showed me the horrifying photographs of a gentle cat named Double Trouble, one of dozens of cats who was cut into, deafened, killed, and decapitated by the University of Wisconsin Madison in a cruel taxpayer funded experiment that’s still going on, I knew I had to join PETA’s campaign to end this abuse.

Cats at UW have holes drilled into their skulls, metal coils implanted into their eyes, are deafened with toxic chemicals and starved to force them to cooperate in experiments that are obviously cruel and aren’t contributing anything to human health. I am not at all moved by the fact that the federal government considers this hideous experiment legal. That only indicates that our federal animal welfare laws are grossly inadequate, not that this cruelty is morally acceptable.

I am outraged that the University of Wisconsin has repeatedly lied about this experiment, concealed what happens inside its laboratories, and ignored pleas for compassion from hundreds of thousands of concerned people. This cruel experiment is funded with the public’s money and occurs at a public institution. UW-Madison should be accountable to the public.

What happens to cats at the school would be criminal outside of a laboratory. It shouldn’t be allowed to continue simply because some backward faculty member calls it “science.” This is not science. It is torture, and I believe it is criminal.

PETA said in a press release that Thursday's protest came after the group sent a letter to the UW Board of Regents on Jan. 22 asking the university to end the research. The group said the letter pointed out the alleged abuse of nine other cats. 

Eric Sandgren, the director the UW-Madison Research Animal Resource Center released a statement denying PETA and Cromwell's allegations:

Today's events are just another attempt by outside activists to draw attention to a cause. They have attacked and distorted this research -- which has very real benefits for people who are deaf -- from every angle imaginable. Exhaustive independent investigation by the USDA, which regulates the use of animals in research, concluded that PETA's allegations are baseless.

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