Former Calif. Slaughterhouse Employees Charged in Abuse Scandal

Two former employees of a Chino slaughterhouse were charged Friday with abusing ailing cattle in a case that came to light when video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.

Five felony counts of animal cruelty and three misdemeanors were filed against Daniel Navarro, 49, of Pomona, and three misdemeanor counts were filed against Luis Sanchez, 32, of Chino.

The misdemeanors allege illegal movement of a non-ambulatory animal.

The men were to be arraigned Friday afternoon. Further details were being released by prosecutors at a late-morning conference.

The slaughterhouse is operated by Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., which supplies meat to the federal school lunch program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after the video surfaced, and on Thursday lawmakers in Washington called for an investigation.

The video showed, among other things, cattle being rammed with forklifts and workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing "downer" animals that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse.

The two employees seen in the video were fired and their supervisor was suspended.

USDA officials have put a hold until Feb. 19 on meat products from the facility, which are also used by major hamburger chains around the nation.

Investigations have found no evidence that meat from disabled animals has entered the food supply.

Federal regulations call for keeping downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination or mad cow disease because they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.

About 150 school districts around the nation have stopped using ground beef from Hallmark Meat Packing Co., which is associated with Westland. There have been no reported illnesses linked to the beef at any of the schools. Some fast-food chains also have halted using products from Westland/Hallmark.

Westland President Steve Mendell said in a letter posted on the company's Web site that he was "shocked and horrified" by what he saw on the video.

The USDA inspector general is looking into Westland's procedures and could turn over information to the Justice Department for criminal charges.