The operator of a pontoon boat that reportedly harassed a swimming deer that drowned told the state Department of Natural Resources that he was trying to turn the animal back to shore and not to hurt it, according to an agency report released Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the DNR is recommending that the 55-year-old Moorhead man be charged with a misdemeanor count of using a motor vehicle to intentionally drive or chase a wild animal. The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects who haven’t been charged.

The Mahnomen County attorney’s office is reviewing the case. The incident happened over Labor Day weekend on Tulaby Lake in northwestern Minnesota.

The suspect told authorities that he noticed something swimming but wasn’t sure what it was, according to the DNR report. When he got his boat near the deer it began swimming farther out into the lake. He drove between the deer and shore while trying to get around the front of it to turn it around, he said, and stayed 50 yards from the deer.

A resident on the lake who witnessed the event told the DNR that the pontoon circled the deer and prevented it from heading toward shore, and that it seemed like the pontoon sped up and was following behind the deer.

Tulaby Lake Association President John Oncken said property owners are glad the DNR has looked into the case, though witnesses saw things differently from the pontoon driver, he said: “There’s people upset. They look at it differently.”

PAM LOUWAGIE