Floyd County coal operator allegedly intimidated, threatened federal mine inspectors

Kentucky coal.
Kentucky coal. Herald-Leader

The operator of a coal mine in Floyd County intimidated two federal inspectors and made them fear for their safety, according to a complaint in federal court.

The operator, Jeremy Bryant, allegedly screamed at the inspectors and backed one against a wall during a discussion about a citation.

Bryant stood inches from the inspector "in a fighting stance" as he continued to yell, according to a sworn statement filed in the case.

The inspectors said they think Bryant probably would have attacked them if his father had not intervened.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is seeking an injunction to bar Bryant from interfering with its inspectors through intimidation, threats or physical violence.

Court records don't list an attorney for Bryant, and efforts to reach him were not successful.

MSHA said in a court document that Bryant is president of Connor Coal Co. The injunction would apply to the company and to all other employees.

Connor Coal operates a small underground mine. It had an average of 21 employees in the second quarter of 2015, according to a federal database.

It is rare for MSHA to seek an injunction to protect inspectors.

U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar scheduled a hearing on the motion next week.

There was an incident in 2011 in which Bryant screamed and lunged at a federal inspector, according to a court document. MSHA supervisors met with him then, and he pledged not to engage in that type of conduct again, the agency said in its motion.

However, inspectors Clarence Ritchie and Robert Wise said Bryant acted aggressively toward them when they went to inspect the mine Aug. 17.

When Ritchie tried to give Bryant some paperwork, Bryant approached him, yelling, "You know better!" according to the government complaint.

Bryant's father, Connie Bryant — who was accused of threatening an inspector in 2000 and was placed under an injunction — told his son to leave the area, and he did, according to MSHA's motion.

But when discussing a citation later, Jeremy Bryant got out of his chair and approached within inches of Wise as he yelled, "I'm the last person you want to smart off to! That's the worst thing you can do is get smart with me!'' Wise said in an affidavit.

"He was nose-to-nose with me while screaming," Wise said. "I could not retreat from the confrontation because Jeremy had me up against a wall."

Bryant's father physically removed him, Wise said.

The inspectors thought it was unsafe to stay any longer.

As they walked to their vehicles, Wise said, he looked toward Jeremy Bryant in the parking lot, and Bryant yelled again, telling him, "Don't ever look at me like you could run through me!"

MSHA is required to complete an inspection of all areas of each underground mine once every quarter. It sometimes takes several visits to finish the work.

Ritchie and Wise were conducting a quarterly inspection at Connor Coal.

MSHA thinks it is unsafe to send inspectors back to the mine without an injunction in place, and if inspectors can't go back, they can't finish the inspection, according to the agency's motion.