PG&E could be exposed to potential criminal charges as serious as murder in the deaths of 86 people during last month’s Camp Fire

Power company PG&E could be exposed to potential criminal charges as serious as murder in the deaths of 86 people during last month’s Camp Fire, if the utility is found responsible for “recklessly” causing the fire to burn.

That revelation came in a brief from the California attorney general’s office, which was asked by a federal judge to weigh in on the potential for criminal charges in the fire—the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history.

The official cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, but the first flames spotted by fire crews were located directly beneath an active PG&E high-tension power line about eight miles from the town of Paradise.


Forty thousand people lived in the town and the ridge around it. Almost all of the community’s homes and businesses were lost. Most of the 86 people killed were found dead in their homes or outside on foot, though some lost their lives when their cars burned during evacuations.

Many in the fire’s path said they had no warning that the flames were coming, spread by hot embers carried in high winds.

SEE VIDEO:

https://www.abc10.com/video/news/local/abc10-originals/escaping-paradise-california-wildfires-the-new-normal-ep-1-of-10/103-8376906?jwsource=cl

POTENTIAL CRIMINAL CHARGES DEPEND ON THE FACTS

The attorney general’s brief stresses that its brief is not a preview of pending charges, but rather an outline of what charges could be possible under California law depending on the findings of the investigation into the fire’s cause.

“Ordinary negligence” would not be enough to convict PG&E of a crime at all, the brief says.

But if a jury finds “criminal negligence” or “recklessness” on the part of PG&E, the company could be charged with any of four possible criminal violations:

  1. Failing to clear vegetation from a power line or pole (misdemeanor)
  2. Starting a wildfire (felony)
  3. Involuntary manslaughter (felony)
  4. Implied-malice murder (felony)

The brief cautions that even if PG&E were found responsible for causing the fire, any potential criminal liability would depend on the “mental state” of the company.

“If PG&E caused any of the fires, the investigation would have to extend into PG&E’s operations, maintenance, and safety practices to determine whether criminal statutes were violated,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “This brief expresses no position on any such factual questions.”

A home burns in the Paradise area during the Camp Fire. When it burned down the town of Paradise, the Camp Fire became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

Lawyers representing victims and survivors of the Camp Fire have already filed multiple civil lawsuits seeking damages for the death and destruction cause by the fire.

PG&E has warned investors that it does not have enough insurance coverage to pay those damages if it is found liable for causing the fire.

In a written statement to ABC10 on Friday night PG&E did not directly address the potential for criminal charges, saying that it was focused on “assessing our infrastructure to further enhance safety and helping our customers continue to recover and rebuild.”

IT MATTERS MORE BECAUSE PG&E IS A CONVICTED FELON ON PROBATION

The brief from the attorney general’s office was requested by the federal judge overseeing PG&E’s felony probation.

In 2016, PG&E was convicted of multiple federal felonies after the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. The convictions included five counts of willfully skirting federal pipeline safety laws and attempting to obstruct the federal investigation into the disaster.

As a result, PG&E was fined, sentenced to 10,000 hours of community service and put on five years of probation. If the company commits another crime during that time, it would violate their probation.

JUDGE DEMANDS ANSWERS BY YEAR’S END

That’s why Federal Judge William Alsup asked for the state attorney general to weigh in on whether “reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines would constitute a crime under California law.”

As part of its sentence for the felonies, PG&E also was required to accept a court-ordered monitor. Rather than something like an ankle monitor to track its location, PG&E’s monitor is a human being named Mark Filip—a former federal judge assigned to keep an eye how PG&E’s compliance with federal laws and the court’s rulings.

Alsup also ordered answers to a list of questions about the fire from the monitor, PG&E, and the federal prosecutors in the San Bruno case.

Among the answers the judge demanded is “an accurate and complete statement of the role, if any, of PG&E in causing and reporting” the Camp Fire and any other wildfires that have occurred in California since PG&E’s felony judgement.

Those answers are due New Year’s Eve.

 

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3 Comments

  1. OK. This article requures some legal interpretation. Let me first say thst I am basing my analysis on what is reported in the article. As we all know, news articles are almost always wrong, contain inaccurate information, and are skewed by the biases of the reporter and editor. I have not researched any actual facts of the case. So, based on that caveat my analysis follows. First, there is a federalism, state sovereignity issue. A federal judge has absolutely no power to tell a state AG what he should or should not do. So, the first thing that jumps out is that the fedearal judge is overstepping his power. Instead of bowing to his request, the AG should make it unequivocally clear to the federal judge that the AG will make its own decision whether to investigate PG &E, and if and only if it decides to do so, will it then decide if a provable crime has been committed and if it so decided, then determine whether to bring criminal charges or not, and also decide who it may bring criminal charges against. The state of California cannot allow federal judges to start dictating what laws to enforce and what crimes to prosecute. The minute we do, we lose our sovereignty. Secondly, the only thing a criminal conviction against PG & E is going to accomplish is make civil liability easier to prove. Now that may be a good thing, but it puts the AG and criminal court in the practical position of deciding civil liability under the false guise of criminal.liability. The Cal AG has the authority to seek a finding of civil liability under the lower standard of preponderance of evidence. So, why impose a higher burden on itself than it has to? it is not like PG & E can be incarcerated. What are they going to do, lock the articles of incorporation in a safety box for 10 years.? The other issue is whether the State of California has the legal authority to hold a corporation criminally liable. I dont know if it does or not. If there has been criminal conduct, then the individuals responsible should be charged and incarcerated. It does little good to charge and convict an imaginary entity that only exists on paper.
    From what the article says, it appears our AG is just caving into the federal judge’s request. Becerra needs to quit being a wuss. If I were the AG I would stand up to that federal judge and tell him to go back to the clown circus he came from or he will be charged with obstruction of justice.

    What a bunch of pussies we have in California running our government
    It is embarrassing and shameful.

    1. Author

      The judge was involved because he was overseeing the probation PG&E is on over the San Bruno explosions. So that probably does give him a says so for review at least.
      And the AG never said they were going to file charges only that was a “possibility.” It was to appease the public, don’t expect it to happen.
      And yes the management of Kalifornia is a embarrassment and a joke.

      1. Exactly. Nothing will happen and the taxpayers have to foot the bill for PG&E now, thanks to AH Brown.

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