BP engineer can’t force U.S. to specify evidence, judge says

A former BP engineer charged with destroying evidence sought for a U.S. probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill lost a court bid to force the government to immediately give details of its case against him.

Kurt Mix, who was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text-message strings from his mobile phone, asked the federal court in New Orleans to order U.S. prosecutors to identify which messages formed the basis of their allegations. He also asked the court to force prosecutors to show how the messages impaired a grand jury investigation.

“The indictment details the factual allegations and provides the defendant with sufficient information to enable him to prepare his defense and to avoid surprise,” U.S. Magistrate Sally Shushan said Tuesday in an order denying Mix’s request.

Mix, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a Feb. 25 trial. The former engineer worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the Macondo well.
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. Mix’s prosecution is the first criminal case to arise from the 2010 spill.

The U.S. Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010, said in April it was weighing whether to file more charges over the spill. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year.

Spill estimates
A grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement in April.
“Mix deleted numerous electronic records relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, including records concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing from the well, after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records,” O’Donnell said in the statement.

Mix deleted the e-mails in October 2010 despite receiving multiple notices from London-based BP in the weeks after the spill, “which stated on the cover, in bold and underlined type, that instant messages and text messages needed to be preserved,” the U.S. said in its indictment issued May 2.
Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, his attorney, Joan McPhee, said at his arraignment in May.

“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” McPhee said. The information saved includes flow-rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill and his personal log notes, she said.

300 message strings
The criminal complaint alleged there were about 300 individual message strings Mix deleted, McPhee said in court filings earlier this month. The indictment doesn’t refer to any specific text message and the criminal complaint only to one, McPhee added.

“As it currently stands, Mix does not know precisely which specific text messages he must be prepared to address at trial, unfairly compromising his ability to prepare his defense,” she said.

The U.S. called Mix’s information requests improper and irrelevant. Mix sought “information that is either extraneous or which would divulge the government’s trial theories,” government lawyers said in a court filing earlier this month.

Prosecutors said they provided Mix’s attorneys with almost 20,000 e-mails, text messages and documents that included “all communications in the government’s possession” connected to the defendant.

Mix’s lawyers said he wasn’t seeking to discover the government’s theory of the case or its trial strategy with his information requests.
“Mix is merely asking the government for basic information to explain the nature and basis of the indictment’s two obstruction charges,” McPhee said in a filing this week.