Nine U. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers could face animal cruelty charges for experiments that killed sheep
June 3, 2010
A judge appointed a special prosecutor Wednesday to weigh animal cruelty charges against nine University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and officials responsible for experiments that killed sheep.
The experiments at the university’s Diving Physiology laboratory concerned an illness known as decompression sickness, or “the bends.” During the studies, sheep are exposed to compressed air in a high-pressure chamber to simulate what happens during deep-sea diving. The Navy and others are interested in treating the sickness.
Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from killing an animal through decompression, which involves a decrease of air pressure after breathing compressed air. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith found probable cause that scientists who carried out the experiments and officials who approved them violated the law themselves or as party to a crime.
Numerous sheep have died over the years, but only four deaths from 2007 and 2008 fall within the three-year statute of limitations, Smith found. She appointed Madison lawyer David Geier to decide whether to file criminal charges, issue an injunction to stop the experiments or impose lesser penalties such as fines or citations.
“In this situation, the university has apparently engaged in behavior resulting in the above-described animal deaths for years,” Smith wrote in a 24-page decision.
Smith’s decision responded to an April petition from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Alliance for Animals seeking criminal charges against 14 university employees. Under the law, any citizen can petition for charges if a district attorney declines to prosecute a case