What it means
The resolution of this case is a vindication of Kurt Mix. The Department of Justice today walked away from any allegation that Kurt ever acted to obstruct justice. Today’s resolution is an affirmation of Kurt’s innocence on the obstruction of justice charges that DOJ so recklessly pursued for four years. This is a case that never should have been brought, against a man whose service in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill should have been celebrated, not prosecuted. He was called in to the front lines of the response after the explosion occurred, and he worked tirelessly to help stop the spill. His efforts, as part of a team of dedicated engineers, played a critical role in shutting off the oil flow.
The Department of Justice mounted a 4-year investigation and prosecution, costing millions of taxpayer dollars. In the end, they agreed to a no-jail-time minor misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket, for failing to get BP’s permission before deleting text messages he had exchanged with a close friend. Kurt accepted this resolution—acknowledging deletions he had admitted from the start—in order to protect himself and his family from any further entanglement with the criminal justice system. The total misjudgment and mismanagement of this case by the Department of Justice should alarm everyone who cares about an impartial and professional legal system. This case is the new poster-child for what prosecutors should not do.
- Kurt was an engineer on the front lines of the Macondo well explosion: he worked around the clock to help stop the oil spill, ultimately succeeding with his fellow engineers in permanently shutting off the flow of oil.
- At a document collection meeting shortly after the spill, Kurt offered BP’s document collection vendor complete access to his phone with all of the text messages still on it. The vendor chose not to collect the phone.
- Over a year after Kurt and his colleagues had successfully stopped the oil spill, Kurt suddenly became the subject of a federal obstruction of justice investigation after he disclosed that he had not taken any special efforts to preserve text messages on his iPhone and that it was possible he had deleted work-related text messages.
- Kurt immediately hired a forensic expert to recover the text messages and succeeded in recovering nearly all of them, which he immediately turned over to DOJ. He meticulously preserved over 10,000 spill records, including his responder logbooks, emails, detailed engineering reports, simulations, and even handwritten Post-It notes.
- Nonetheless, Mr. Mix was indicted on two felony counts of obstructing justice by deleting text message strings from his cell phone.
- At Mr. Mix’s trial in December 2013, the jury acquitted him on one of the two counts of obstruction of justice. Although the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the other count, that verdict was soon revealed to have been corrupted by egregious jury misconduct. Four judges—the district judge and three court of appeals judges—affirmed that the verdict was unconstitutional and could not stand. The verdict was set aside and a new trial ordered.
- In the lead-up to trial, the government backed down on its obstruction of justice charge and agreed to a no-jail-time misdemeanor plea. Kurt accepted this resolution—acknowledging deletions he had admitted from the start—in order to protect himself and his family from any further entanglement with the criminal justice system.
- Four years and millions of dollars later, this case closed with a minor misdemeanor wrist slap—the equivalent of a traffic ticket for failing to get BP’s permission before deleting text messages with a close friend.