FARGO — Prosecutors will not seek charges against North Dakota State University after the U.S. Department of Agriculture said an employee improperly killed a cow.

The Cass County State’s Attorney Office said in an April 13 letter it declined to prosecute the NDSU Meat Lab and employees involved in the Feb. 22 killing of a heifer that was deemed by the USDA to violate federal slaughter requirements.

The letter obtained by The Forum said prosecutors do not believe they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the slaughtering of the animal “occurred outside the usual and customary practice” of butchering a heifer.

“While the USDA did find the incident to be a violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act, they concluded that formal charges were not necessary to address the violation,” the prosecuting office’s letter said.

The State’s Attorney Office announced it would investigate the matter after the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alerted prosecutors to what PETA called a disturbing USDA report. According to the report:

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

A meat laboratory employee shot a heifer in the head three times with a captive bolt device but missed its brain. The animal remained conscious for all three shots, blinking, vocalizing and bleeding as it stood.

An interim manager reassembled the bolt device, reloaded it and attempted to stun the heifer, but the device misfired. The animal was rendered unconscious after the fifth shot, according to the report.

NDSU did not operate “under a robust systematic approach to humane handling at the time of the incident,” the USDA said. The federal agency temporarily suspended assignment of inspectors to the meat laboratory until NDSU provided a corrective plan on Feb. 23.

NDSU was able to resume operations at the meat laboratory with increased oversight from federal inspectors.

PETA claimed NDSU violated North Dakota law by repeatedly shooting the animal in the head. Colin Henstock, the organization’s assistant manager of investigations, said PETA was surprised prosecutors didn’t pursue charges and disagreed with the State’s Attorney Office’s assessment.

“There’s an enormous amount of cruelty and suffering that is considered usual or customary in the slaughter industry,” Henstock said. “Shooting a cow in the head over and over isn’t among that.”

NDSU did not return a message left by The Forum seeking comment for this story.