A Harlan County coal company and three supervisors willfully violated federal health and safety rules, exposing employees at an underground mine to the danger of being hurt or killed, a federal grand jury charged Wednesday.
The alleged violations occurred at the company's P-1 mine at Pathfork in June 2011, a month in which one miner died at that mine.
The grand jury indicted Manalapan Mining Company, Inc., and Jefferson Davis, 53, of Harlan; Joseph Miniard, 45, of Smith; and Bryant Massingale, 52, of Cawood.
Miniard was supervisor at the mine, while Davis was the operations manager and Massingale was the second-shift foreman, according to the indictment.
The company and the officers put employees at risk of having the mine roof collapse on them, according to the indictment.
The issue involved a piece of equipment designed to hold up the roof while workers used a machine to drive bolts into the rock overhead.
The temporary roof-support mechanism didn't reach all the way to the mine roof, the indictment said, meaning workers were under sections of rock that weren't supported.
That increased the potential for a slab of rock to fall.
Manalapan also had miners operate equipment that didn't have the necessary canopies to protect them from roof falls and left equipment in service despite a potentially dangerous electrical condition, the indictment said.
Davis, Miniard and Massingale allowed miners to work under unsupported sections of the mine roof and allowed them to operate equipment that didn't have features to protect them if the roof had collapsed, the indictment said.
The grand jury also charged Massingale with falsifying records by not including information about hazardous conditions, and indicted Miniard for signing off on the improper paperwork.
Those charges related to false reporting are felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The other charges in the indictment carry a maximum one-year sentence.
The indictment said the violations occurred between June 6 and June 29, 2011.
An employee at the P-1 mine, David Partin, 49, of Pineville, was killed in a roof fall on June 30, 2011, according to the Web site of the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney who formerly worked at the federal and state mine-safety agencies, said it is unusual to have mine managers criminally charged over alleged safety violations, in part because most of the charges available are misdemeanors.
Oppegard said it is particularly egregious that Manalapan and some of its managers allegedly put miners at risk over a period of several weeks.
"They were playing Russian roulette with the miners' lives," Oppegard said.
Efforts to reach those indicted were not successful Wednesday evening.
The P-1 mine is not currently producing, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Some Manalapan mines came under increased federal scrutiny in the wake of the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
Federal inspectors alleged that during inspections at two Manalapan mines weeks after the West Virginia disaster, employees above ground warned miners under ground that regulators were on the property.
That would have allowed employees under ground to fix potential violations before inspectors could cite them, MSHA said in a court document.
Those allegations did not involve the P-1 mine.