Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier has declined to investigate the Tyson Fresh Meats plant near Holcomb or consider criminal charges against one or more of its employees following a request to do so by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) after employees failed to humanely euthanize an ailing steer in July.

PETA’s letter, sent in early August to Richmeier, cited a USDA notice to Tyson in its call to hold employees responsible for the botched euthanasia. Employees reportedly left a steer downed for 30 minutes before euthanasia was deemed necessary. The first attempt to kill the animal failed, and no attempt succeeded until after “at least” five captive bolt blasts were fired into the steer’s head, according to the USDA.

In an email to The Telegram, Richmeier said that at this time, the Finney County Attorney’s Office is declining to prosecute any animal cruelty charges alleged to have taken place at the Tyson plant.

In response, PETA attorney Melissa Wilson issued the following response via email:

"Tyson workers forced an ailing steer to endure a terrifying, painful death after multiple captive bolt blasts to his head — and filing charges in this case would have been an important step in preventing more cattle from suffering the same fate. Anyone who is discouraged or irate that these charges have not been brought and wishes to spare other animals like this steer from suffering should go vegan, and order a free vegan starter kit at PETA.org."

Richmeier explained that at most only misdemeanor charges could be filed and would probably not result in anything more than fines, court costs and probation for the individuals involved.

“The federal government has more teeth for reprimand in those situations than we do and used them at the time of incident,” Richmeier said.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) suspended slaughter operations at Tyson on July 19, but conditionally lifted the suspension the next day. The notice of suspension issued to Tyson plant manager Anthony Lang was based on the plant’s “failure to prevent inhumane handling of slaughter of livestock…”

According to the notice, at about 8:15 p.m. July 19, personnel observed a steer lying on its back in a pen. Workers were ordered to close the gate to give it a chance to get up. The inspection continued for 30 to 40 minutes, at which point the animal was observed lying on its side, seemingly dead. 

After observing eye movement, the notice said, personnel were directed to euthanize the steer to prevent further suffering.

According to the USDA, a Tyson employee observed another employee attempting and failing to euthanize the animal. An employee was subsequently observed administering three captive bolt blasts to the animal without any effect, although the equipment appeared to work.

According to the notice, additional knocking guns were requested, when shortly thereafter the “affected animal got up.” Personnel then administered five captive bolt blasts to the animal’s head, killing it after the fifth attempt. The notice stated that many of the guns “either misfired or didn’t fire at all.”

PETA noted in a public statement in August that the incident may violate Kansas’ cruelty to animals statute and called for a criminal investigation.

In response, Tyson issued the following statement:

“We never want to see any animal in our care suffer, and believe proper animal handling is an important moral and ethical obligation. Everyone who works with live animals in our facilities is trained regularly in proper animal handling, and the team members involved in this incident are receiving additional training and ongoing performance evaluations. As indicated in the USDA report, this incident occurred as a result of equipment error. We have worked with USDA to resolve the matter and are working with the manufacturer to improve equipment practices.”

Tyson immediately issued a preventative plan in verification to FSIS that such incidents would not occur again. The plan involved additional training of stunning operators pertaining to equipment use, as well as additional training of new employees. The plan also stipulated that malfunctioning captive bolt equipment would be taken out of service for review and potential repair, and that all other captive bolt stun guns would be dissembled, checked and cleaned.

After receiving the plan on July 20, the FSIS conditionally lifted the suspension.

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.