DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Another senior employee at a chemical company is facing criminal charges connected to a 2017 explosion at a Houston-area plant following Hurricane Harvey.
The Harris County District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday that Arkema vice president of logistics Michael Keough has been indicted for felony assault.
District Attorney Kim Ogg says Keough falsely told officials that Arkema was monitoring potentially explosive chemical tanks in real time when the company had insufficient data to give early warning. Ogg says these “misrepresentations” led sheriff’s deputies to drive directly into a toxic cloud, which then spread to expose citizens of Crosby, outside Houston.
An attorney for Keough, Dan Cogdell, called the indictment “absurd” and “beyond rational thought.”
“There has, quite literally, never been a prosecution like this one for one singular reason — what Mike did wasn’t a crime” Cogdell said in a statement.
The charges against Keough were announced weeks after fires at two other Houston-area chemical plants , and on the day President Donald Trump visited Crosby to sign executive orders designed to speed up oil and gas pipeline projects
Ogg acknowledged during a news conference that criminal charges are rarely brought against company employees over environmental violations, but said civil regulations have proven insufficient to protect the public.
“Too often corporations are simply allowed to pay fines and that doesn’t change corporate behavior,” she said.
Keough is the third Arkema employee to be indicted since the hurricane knocked out power at the company’s Crosby facility. Without electricity, some of the chemicals at the plant caught fire and partially exploded, sending plumes of smoke skyward.
Richard Rowe, the France-based company’s chief executive, and plant manager Leslie Comardelle were charged with releasing toxic chemicals last year. They are set to be tried in May.
In 2018, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a report saying that Arkema failed to consider how a Harvey-level flood could affect its electrical power system.
A lawyer for the company, Rusty Hardin, said Wednesday that prosecutors are trying to hold Arkema responsible for an “Act of God” and called the case “political.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)