The third and final defendant in the Deutsche Bank fire trial, construction supervisor Mitchel Alvo, was acquitted of murder charges Wednesday in the deaths of two firefighters in the 2007 fire. Many fire department officials, including Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Alexander Hagan, believe that Alvo and the two other contractors acquitted of criminal charges last week were merely scapegoats for far more powerful officials, reported the New York Post.
Corruption and negligence from the start
The Deutsche Bank Building — located near Ground Zero — was severely damaged in the attacks on 9/11. The building was in the process of being demolished by a consortium of large organizations, including the city Buildings Department and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, when the fire broke out. Prosecutors in the two- and-a-half year long case charged that the defendants, employed by contractor John Galt Company, quietly and illegally removed a large standpipe in the building’s basement to cut costs during the building’s expensive deconstruction. The removal of the standpipe prevented the firefighters from accessing water when a fire broke out in 2007, resulting in the firefighters’ deaths.
“Everybody who could have screwed up screwed up here,” said former District Attorney Robert Morganthau, blaming the Fire Department, the Buildings Department and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for extreme oversight, reported the Daily News. Despite his belief that many governmental agencies were complicit in the firefighters’ deaths, Morganthau had decided not to prosecute any city or state agencies when he was in office, sparking waves of outrage when the trial began.
Morganthau said that he decided not to go after government agencies because he would have spent years dealing with the city’s appeals to sovereign immunity, reported WNYC Senior Reporter Bob Hennelly. The former DA said that as a result of the fire, the FDNY now takes building inspections much more seriously.
Frying small fish
Many critics, like Hagan, believe that when the DA pressed charges in December 2008, he was going after the wrong people — the contractors working for John Galt Corporation — because charges against the city were unlikely to stick, reported the New York Times. John Galt Corporation, the only party to face any penalties in the case, was found guilty of reckless endangerment on Wednesday and faces a $5,000 fine. John Galt Corporation paid $5 million to each of the dead firefighters’ families — which one of the families refused to accept — reported the Daily News. It’s understandable that they refused, since as early as 2006 the city’s Department of Investigation was voicing extreme concern over the decision to hire John Galt Corporation — which had never taken down an environmentally contaminated building and had alleged criminal ties — and in 2008 the DOI sent a scathing letter to the Lower Manhattan Construction and Command Center warning that the choice to hire Galt could be dangerous, reported the New York Times.
Lessons learned and future challenges
The Deutsche Bank case could spur considerable political debate over whether or not criminal prosecution is the proper action in cases where negligence causes deaths, reported the New York Times.