Manslaughter charges against the Original Sixteen to One Mine, company president Mike Miller, and manager Jonathan Farrell, were dismissed by Judge Stanley Young Jr. in Downieville, California.
An initial investigation into the death of miner Mark Fussell by local authorities and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) resulted in no charges being filed. Fussell died November 6, 2000, when his head hit a protruding ore chute while he was driving a piece of equipment.
The California District Attorney's Association (CDAA), a private organization, was able to obtain permission from outgoing Sierra County District Attorney to pursue charges against the mine and company officials over 16 months after the accident.
The CDAA obtained an indictment via a grand jury rather than using the traditional method of a preliminary hearing. Grand juries hear testimony only from prosecuting attorneys. Defense attorneys are not present and don't have the opportunity to cross exam witnesses.
On February 13, 2003, Judge Young agreed with a defense motion that evidence was improperly withheld from the grand jury, including the fact that an inspection of the mine was made by Cal-OSHA a week prior to the accident and no potential hazards were noted.
Current Sierra County District Attorney Larry Allen stated, "The standard for a trial is considerably higher than for an indictment. In this sort of case, nine out of ten times [the prosecution] would get a hung jury or a 'not guilty' verdict. In light of this, facts with which I have become aware since taking office, and the considerable expense to the county, I have closed the book on this incident."
Allen said a recent underground tour of the mine's accident site made his understanding of the incident much clearer.
Mike Miller stated, "The CDAA behaved unethically, lied to the grand jury, and caused damage that may prove permanent to the mine. They have undertaken a policy of 'rural cleansing,' attempting to destroy all facets of rural life."
Miller stated he is exploring filing a civil suit against CDAA prosecutors. Although the prosecutors enjoy immunity in most circumstances, that immunity doesn't apply if the complainant can prove they acted with malice.
The CDAA has taken criticism for pursuing cases that might not otherwise make it to court. Thomas Crary, a former CDAA member who represented the mine in this case, stated, "…there are professional ethics that prohibit a private attorney looking to be retained in a specific case, especially for money."
The CDAA is now 0-2 when prosecuting industrial accidents. They have two additional cases currently working their way through the courts.