Massey Officials Plea the Fifth in Upper Big Branch Disaster Investigation
Officials responsible for safety at the Upper Big Branch coal mine during the April 3rd, 2010 disaster have decided to live by the old maxim “better to keep your mouth shut and appear guilty than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
“Approximately 15 Massey upper-management employees have pled their Fifth Amendment right not to provide potentially self-incriminating evidence during the interview process,” according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, the government agency responsible for investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners.
At least six of those who have refused to cooperate with MHSA were high-level safety personnel at Upper Big Branch during the explosion. Lawyers for the Massey officials issued letters to the state announcing their clients’ refusal to testify in the investigation for fear of incriminating themselves, while maintaining that they “did nothing wrong.” The refusal of those responsible for safety at UBB to testify is not a surprise, given the numerous allegations that Massey management took major risks with human life rather than threaten profits.
The refusal of top Massey safety officials to cooperate in the investigation is part of a wider campaign orchestrated by the coal company to discredit the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in hopes of influencing public opinion. Though nominally independent, the Massey officials’ lawyers are paid by Massey, and have parroted Massey’s corporate lawyers’ accusations of wrongdoing by government agencies. Massey Energy’s legal team claims that the investigations were being used more as a means of “generating public bias against Massey Energy and its personnel than they are in respecting the rule of law and fair process.” Following in lockstep, “independent” lawyers representing the Massey officials claim the investigations are “not being conducted properly” by MSHA, who is using its investigation to "divert attention and blame from itself and onto others."
Massey’s strategy has also included an attack on the independent investigation team appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin, which Massey-affiliated lawyers allege have "bullied and abused" some witnesses.
For the record, these are the names and positions of Massey officials refusing to work with the MSHA investigation that have been released:
* Jamie Ferguson, vice president of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal;
* Wayne Persinger, a general manager at Upper Big Branch;
* Rick Nicolau, a maintenance chief at the mine;
* Mine foremen Rick Foster and Gary May.
From the West Virginia Gazette