12. The Grand Jury That Wouldn't Take It Any More
Sources: DENVER WESTWORD, Date: 9/30/92+, Title: "Rocky
Flats Grand Jury" series, Authors: Bryan Abas and Patricia Calhoun; HARPER'S
MAGAZINE, Date: 12/92, Title: "Readings: The Grand Jury Report"; THE
DENVER POST, Date: 1/5/93, Title: "Panel: Flats probe thwarted" Authors:
Kelly Richmond and Robert Kowalski; THE WASHINGTON POST, Date: 8/11/93, Title:
"Free the Rocky Flats 23," Author: Jonathan Turley
Researcher: Kristen Rutledge
SYNOPSIS: "For forty years, federal, Coloradan, and local
regulators and elected officials have been unable to make the Department
of Energy (DOE) and the plant's corporate operators obey the law. Indeed
the plant has been, and continues to be, operated by government and
corporate employees who have placed themselves above the law and who
have hidden their illegal conduct behind the cloak of 'national security'."
-- from sealed report of the special grand jury impaneled in Denver
in August 1989, and submitted to the court in March 1992.
But all that seemed to end on March 26, 1992, when a U.S. prosecuting
attorney announced that Rockwell Inter-national, the company that operated
the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant in Colorado for 14 years, had
pled guilty to ten charges of violating federal hazardous waste disposal
and clean water laws. The plea bargain called for an $18.5 million fine
which Rockwell agreed to pay. All that remained was for the court to
approve the settlement.
have been the end of this environmental crime if it had not been for a grand jury
of 23 citizens who refused to participate in a cover-up and an aggressive alternative
weekly newspaper, the Denver-based Westword, which believed in the public's right
While the prosecuting attorney announced that Rockwell's fine would
be the largest ever collected by the federal government for violations of hazardous
waste disposal laws, critics pointed out that the $18.5 million fine was less
than the $22.6 million in bonus fees awarded Rockwell from 1987 to 1989.
On September 30, 1992, Westword started publishing a remarkable series
of articles by Bryan Abas and Westword editor Patricia Calhoun about
the jury investigation -- including incriminating court documents and
charges of an official cover-up.
20, 1992, the grand jurors went public charging that the Justice Department prevented
them from fulfilling their oaths to pursue wrongdoing regardless of the consequences.
In turn, the Justice Department threatened them with criminal charges for revealing
information on the case.
Jonathan Turley, an environmental law professor
at George Washington University, who also is representing the jurors on a pro
bono basis, cited the "Rocky Flats 23" for being the first grand jury
in history to risk possible personal incarceration for revealing information critical
of the Justice Department.
By August 1993, the justice Department's environmental
crimes section was being investigated by the department itself and by a House
oversight subcommittee to determine whether the Bush administration allowed corporations
and corporate officials to escape punishment for serious environmental crimes.
Turley reported, "House investigators, while facing what one of
them called 'extreme' resistance from the department, uncovered evidence
of high-level intervention by Justice Department officials to reduce
both charges and fines against Rockwell." Oversight subcommittee
chairman Howard Wolpe and other lawmakers have asked President Bill
Clinton to pardon the grand jurors.
COMMENTS: The Rocky Flats case is a classic example of how a
small but aggressive weekly paper can bring an issue to national attention
through its own persistent coverage. While the Rocky Flats Grand Jury
story started in mid-1989, it wasn't until late 1992 that it started
to attract media attention, as reported by Amy Asch, promotion manager
for Harper's Magazine.
The Denver Westword started covering the story on September 30,
1992, when it published the first in a series of articles about the Rocky Flats
Grand Jury by reporter Bryan Abas and Westword editor Patricia Calhoun. Abas had
obtained a draft copy of the grand jury's report, which had been sealed by, the
judge, and, according to Asch, "Harper's Magazine brought the story to the
national press, by printing the first lengthy extract from the document in the
December 1992 issue. This resulted in news stories being written by The New York
Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Rocky Mountain News, Sacramento Bee,
and other newspapers."
Westword editor Calhoun pointed out that if Westword had "not
broken the original story -- and like the grand jurors, risked contempt
of court in doing so -- it's unlikely that the subject would have ever
seen the light of day."
Calhoun said the general public would benefit from
even wider exposure of this story since "Rocky Flats is only one instance
of the justice department dragging its heels on the issue of environmental crimes
at federal facilities. A Congressional subcommittee is currently considering thirty
other cases in which Justice may have willfully failed to prosecute such crimes.
Certainly, wider exposure of the Rocky Flats story would illuminate these other
Calhoun noted that the primary beneficiaries of the lack of
coverage given the issue include the Justice Department, Department of Defense,
Department of Energy, and Rockwell International.
Harper's Asch notes that the magazine "believes strongly in providing
the facts and letting readers make their own decisions. The Rocky Flats
cover-up ... is not only an environmental issue, but also concerns the
negligent behavior of the DOE, and what seems to be an attempt by the
Justice Department to cover up the DOE's cover-up of its environmental
Ironically, more than four years after this
story started, it still has not received the coverage necessary to prod the administration
to resolve it. On November 1, 1993, Dick Thomas, associate editor of The Oregonian,
in Portland, reported that the Rocky Flats grand jurors still haven't received
justice and "remain unanimous in their commitment to disclosing what they
know about the crimes committed at Rocky Flats."