HOUSTON – Defense attorneys for Arkema, the company’s CEO and the Crosby plant manager had their first court hearing Monday morning.
The judge set the bond for Richard Rowe and Leslie Comardelle at $20,000 each.
They, along with the company, are named in the indictment accusing them of recklessly releasing chemicals into the air, which placed residents and emergency workers in danger.
Noted defense attorney Rusty Hardin, Arkema’s representative, said the indictments for him are a first, "I've never seen a victim of a national catastrophe charged with a crime."
Investigators said floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 overtook the east Harris County chemical plant and knocked out generators meant to keep certain chemicals cold.
Without proper refrigeration, the chemicals caused explosions and fires that lasted four days.
Paul Nugent, the defense attorney for plant manager Leslie Comardelle, said his client is not being portrayed accurately, "Leslie didn't commit a crime. He's a hero and his crew all acted heroically."
“The facts of this case indicate that Arkema didn’t have a flood plan. What they did have is a plan that recklessly assumed that they would never experience more flooding than they had in the past in the face of facts that would indicate otherwise,” said Alexander Forrest, with the district attorney's office.
The Federal Chemical Safety Board found the company had a plan in place, but did not prepare for the catastrophic flooding.
Hardin said it’s unfortunate the state claims Arkema chose profits over safety. He said no one in Houston expected a storm like Harvey and no one should face criminal charges.
“If the harm was caused by an act of God, something totally unforeseen and done by nature, nobody is guilty and nobody in this town is guilty,” Hardin said.
Near the end of an impromptu news conference outside of court following the first appearance, Hardin said the case is unprecedented in all his years of practice, "It's the most outrageous, dumbest, wrong, unfair indictment I have encountered in 43 years of dealing with the criminal justice system."
The charge carries penalties of up to five years in prison for the men named in the indictment and up to $1 million in fines for the company.
Attorneys said the two men will remain employed with Arkema as the legal process runs its course.
The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22.
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