Former BP engineer Kurt Mix, who served on the BP team trying to stop the oil spill that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, pleaded guilty on November 6 to intentionally causing damage to a protected computer without authorization. Mix was originally charged by the Justice Department with felony obstruction of justice after being accused of deleting text messages in October 2010 during the aftermath of the oil spill, but pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor charge and avoided prison time. Mix will serve six months’ probation and pay no fine.
Mix has been fighting the obstruction charges for years. During a 2013 trial, he was acquitted of one obstruction charged but found guilty of another. However, the verdict was later thrown out and Mix was granted a new trial after juror misconduct was uncovered. Mix has maintained his innocence throughout the process. Mix held that the deleted text messages were personal in nature and had almost nothing to do with the oil spill. Mix claimsthat he acknowledged that the texts were deleted and that he provided thousands of documents and emails to investigators about his team’s efforts to plug the well. Mix also states that he worked with a forensic investigator to recover the deleted text messages and turned them over to the Justice Department well before he was indicted.
Trials are still pending for Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, the two BP well-site leaders who were aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded. Both are charged with 11 counts of manslaughter for ignoring pressure warnings just before the explosion. David Rainey, a former BP vice president, was acquitted of obstruction charges in June related to testimony he gave to Congress concerning the spill. In 2012, BP settled its own criminal charges related to the spill, agreeing to pay over $4 billion in fines.
Keywords: energy litigation, Deepwater Horizon, BP, Justice Department, obstruction of justice
Courtney Scobie is with Ajamie LLP in Houston, Texas.