Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Houston area DA charges Arkema plant logistics executive with assault

I bet this is pretty unusual:
A Texas grand jury on April 10 indicted chemicals manufacturer Arkema North America and one of its executives on assault charges, alleging they underplayed the dangers of a fire that injured two emergency workers called to the site during a fire. 
The U.S. arm of the French chemicals firm and its vice president of logistics, Michael Keough, were charged with “reckless assault” of two sheriff’s deputies by misrepresenting hazards of chemicals released during a fire after Hurricane Harvey, prosecutors said. 
“The reckless assault was the misrepresentation by a highly placed corporate official” of the dangers of organic peroxides that burned after the plant flooded, said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. A conviction carries a penalty of two years to 10 years, she said. 
Here's the press release from the Harris County DA. It's an interesting theory: i.e. by not giving the sheriff's deputies all the information they needed about the Arkema peroxides, when the deputies were exposed to the chemicals, it was Arkema who was at fault. I guess I'd like to know - what is the threshold for declaring felony assault as a result of a chemical release? A plume? A spill? How big?

While you can really extrapolate all sorts of interesting legal theories and precedents from this incident, I speculate that it is best understood as an indication of 1) the political ambitions of the DA, 2) the overall irritation of the Houston-area population at the disproportionately high number of chemical plants in the area.

(I am really curious to know - does the relevant VP of logistics live in Texas? because if not, he might want to move to France for a while... (I'm sure France has an extradition treaty with the US.) 

4 comments:

  1. This will be very, very interesting to watch. Without knowing all the facts (and just reading the links), I wonder if the HCDA has overreached a bit; but their office has more information than we have right now.

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  2. Arkema was saying in (our local) paper (not in TX) that the change of charges implies that HCDA has no case. I don't know if that's real bravado or false bravado.

    I would figure that felony assault ought to have some intent to injure, but IANAL.

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  3. the problem here is: the company was storing large quantity of very touchy peroxide initiators in refrigerated containers, it was very obvious the material would go off like a timebomb when the refrigeration failed due to the flood. It is reckless not to inform the emergency response about the hazard.

    There is an awful youtube video of a similar incident: A delivery guy with a tank of compressed ammonia in the back, the tank comes lose and falls off the truck, breaks the ventil. The driver runs to the leaky tank, collapses next to it and dies. A traffic cop comes to the rescue, tries to help the driver, collapses next to the driver and dies as well.

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    1. You'd think that the fire department has a site inventory and the emergency plans and would think they'd know how to respond adequately (also because in Houston are a chemical plant burns down seemingly one a month). But you'd also think that US cops are badly disciplined and won't listen to the firemen. After all they've got guns! No surprises, also at the political ambitions of the district attorney.

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