October 1, 2020
We’re pleased to see the end of this trial, which should never have taken place at all. The facts of this case did not warrant any indictments, and we do not believe any indictment would have been granted but for the false information presented to the Grand Jury by prosecutors. The prosecutors in this case repeatedly, blatantly and unapologetically broke rules that are in place to protect us all by ensuring our fundamental right to a fair trial.
We were pleased that Judge Belinda Hill found – not once, but twice -- that the prosecutors had committed misconduct. We were gratified by the mid-trial dismissal of assault charges against Mike Keough and Arkema Inc. We are pleased that Judge Hill issued a directed verdict dismissing the State’s criminal case against Rich Rowe, and then issued a directed verdict dismissing the State’s case against Leslie Comardelle and Arkema Inc.
This trial sought to criminalize the impact of a natural disaster that Harris County itself was not prepared for. While Arkema was found to have been prepared for a 500-year flood, our Crosby plant had a 5,000-20,000 year rainfall and the resulting flooding rose 30 inches above the 500-year flood level. Our plant employees went to heroic lengths to protect the public, and when flooding overwhelmed their every effort, we proactively notified emergency responders and the public, days before the first fire started. We communicated extensively with the Unified Command that coordinated emergency response, and explicitly warned that emergency responders should wear respirators if they might be exposed to smoke from the fires. We cannot fathom why they did not do so, but it certainly was not for lack of warning.
We are grateful that justice was served despite the smoke and mirrors conjured up by the prosecution. It is beyond unfortunate that these ill-founded charges created years of undue hardship for Rich Rowe, Leslie Comardelle and Mike Keough, and for their families. The most positive aspect of the trial’s conclusion is that it allows these good people to get on with their lives.
Hurricane Harvey-related criminal accusations against Arkema Inc. and its employees are scheduled to go to trial the week of February 17, 2020.
Visiting Judge Belinda Hill will preside for Harris County’s 339th District Court.
Quotes Regarding Upcoming Trial
Rusty Hardin, lawyer for Arkema Inc.:
“Harris County prosecutors are making an unprecedented and outrageous attempt to criminalize a natural disaster. They have filed charges trying to prosecute a company and its employees for the Act of God that was Hurricane Harvey. This is a political prosecution in search of a theory, and Harris County taxpayers will have to foot the bill for this very political attempt to stretch the meaning of our laws.”
Tim Johnson, lawyer for Arkema Inc. CEO Richard Rowe:
“Houston still has not recovered from Harvey’s flooding more than two years ago. The fact that prosecutors persist in trying to blame a company and its employees in criminal court for the ravages of this unprecedented storm should concern us all.”
The trial will combine two separate indictments relating to Hurricane Harvey.
1. One indictment alleges Arkema Inc. and two of its employees illegally caused an air pollution violation during Hurricane Harvey. This charge was made even though an Act of God is a legal defense to this charge.
The criminal charges are especially surprising since the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded that Arkema behaved responsibly. At the end of an eight-month investigation, the Chemical Safety Board noted that there were no regulatory or industry standards that existed that were applicable to Arkema’s unique situation, that Arkema’s actions were reasonable, that Arkema cooperated with the Unified Command, and that Hurricane Harvey was the most significant rainfall event in U.S. history, an Act of God never before seen in this country.
Lead lawyers for defense in pollution case #160031001010:
- Rusty Hardin - Arkema Inc.
- Tim Johnson - Richard Rowe, Arkema CEO
- Paul Nugent - Leslie Comardelle, former Arkema plant manager in Crosby
2. A second indictment charges Arkema Inc. and one of its employees with assault of a public servant even though the employee is based in Pennsylvania and remained there during the Arkema incident. His assault charge is based on his alleged misrepresentation of the chemicals present during Hurricane Harvey.
Defense lawyers could not find any precedent in Texas or around the country for charging someone with a physical assault in one state for allegedly misrepresenting information in another state.
Lead lawyers for defense in assault case #162762501010:
- Rusty Hardin - Arkema Inc.
- Dan Cogdell - Michael Keough, Arkema Inc. Retired Vice President of Logistics
News posted on this site is for the sole purpose of informing the public of any current and/or ongoing incidents. Once the incident is resolved, this content will be archived. Follow us on Twitter and check this site for updated information.