Another Arkema official indicted in chemical release during Harvey

By Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor

HOUSTON - Another official from a chemical company that was the site of a fire during Hurricane Harvey was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the indictment of Michael Keough, the vice president of logistics for Arkema, on a charge of reckless assault.

Investigators said that floodwaters overtook the Crosby chemical plant and knocked out generators meant to keep certain chemicals cold. Without proper refrigeration, the chemicals combusted, resulting in explosions and fires that lasted for four days.

Arkema North America, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle were indicted in August.

Ogg said that Keough made misrepresentations about real-time monitoring of the chemicals at the plant. The lack of data led to first responders and residents in the area being placed in harm’s way, Ogg said.

"It's people who made these decisions -- human beings," Ogg said. "They let others take risks that shouldn't have had to be taken, and as a result, deputies were harmed, victims were created, and we've stepped in to protect them and the other innocent residents of Crosby."

VIDEO: Ogg talks about indictment against another Arkema employee

Keough's attorney said in a written statement that his client was in Pennsylvania at the time of the disaster.

"Mike provided needed safety information hours before the first fire occurred that, if followed, would have enhanced the safety of emergency responders," Keough's attorney, Dan Cogdell, said in the statement. "He communicated with the unified command to provide them with the best information possible to allow the best and safest decisions to be made. He did all of those things in large part to assist and protect the very people he is now charged with 'recklessly assaulting.'"

Ogg said evidence that led to Keough being charged was uncovered while prosecutors were preparing for the trial of his co-defendants. 

The first trial in the Arkema case is scheduled to begin in May.

Cogdell's entire written statement follows:

"That the DA’s office has chosen to Indict my client Mike Keough is absurd. Mike was in Pennsylvania during Hurricane Harvey and he gathered the correct list of chemicals from our team and sent it to the command center on the scene. Mike provided needed safety information hours before the first fire occurred that, if followed, would have enhanced the safety of emergency responders. He communicated with the unified command to provide them with the best information possible to allow the best and safest decisions to be made. He did all of those things in large part to assist and protect the very people he is now charged with 'recklessly assaulting.' It is absolutely beyond rational thought that he is charged at this late date with assault. There has, quite literally, never been a prosecution like this one for one singular reason - what Mike did wasn’t a crime.

"Arkema and its employees had a crisis plan for a 500-year storm but no one had a plan for the 5,000-year or worse storm that hit the company in Crosby. Every major Harris County official recognized this during the historic nature of the flooding and its aftermath. The flooding that occurred at Arkema and across Harris County was unforeseeable. To blame someone for correctly doing his job so the DA can look tough or chase political favor turns our system of justice on its head.

"Quite simply, I am appalled that the DA’s Office has chosen this path of charging Mike. It’s wrong, it’s legally and factually unsound and we look forward to immediately clearing his name in a jury trial as soon as possible."

Attorney Rusty Hardin, who represents Arkema, issued the following statement about Wednesday's development:

"Harris County prosecutors are doubling down on an unprecedented and outrageous attempt to criminalize a natural disaster. They have filed more charges trying to prosecute a company for the act of God that was Hurricane Harvey. We can only conclude that with a May trial date looming, prosecutors realize they can’t prove the previous charges and are grasping at straws. This is a political prosecution in search of a theory.

"Many citizens, businesses and even Harris County courthouses have still not recovered from the unexpected disaster that Harvey was. Yet the DA’s office persists in trying to place criminal blame on Arkema and its employees despite their remarkable and heroic efforts amid the six feet of water no one predicted.

"The Harris County Flood Control District concluded that in the area of Arkema’s Crosby plant, Harvey was a 5,000- to (a) 20,000-year rainfall event. That our county prosecutor persists in desperately seeking a way to criminally blame a company for the ravages of this storm should give us all pause.

"Arkema stands by its employees and will fight this unwarranted political action."

Check out a timeline of the Arkema incident below.

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