Last updated April 7, 2008 2:10 p.m. PT
Case of ex-Boeing inspector ends in mistrial
A jury couldn’t reach an agreement on the fate of former Boeing quality assurance inspector Gerald Eastman, resulting in a mistrial on Monday.
Jurors, who entered their fifth day of deliberations Monday, were split 10-to-2, with the majority leaning to convict Eastman. He was accused of 16 felony counts of computer trespass, after downloading Boeing documents and providing some of them to a Seattle Times reporter. He also had contact with a Seattle P-I reporter.
“We will review the case and make a decision within two weeks on whether to seek a retrial,” said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutor.
Eastman had said that contacting the media was his last resort after Boeing management and the Federal Aviation Administration ignored his complaints about what he said was a shoddy inspection process for new planes. Eastman says that he is a whistle-blower.
The King County prosecutor charged that some of the resulting newspaper articles had nothing to do with airplane safety.
Juror Butch Higgins, 63, of Seattle, approached Eastman after the trial and called him a hero. Higgins said that he was one of two jurors who believed that Eastman was granted access to Boeing’s computer systems, and that his crime did not constitute “trespass.”
“This man (Eastman) showed tremendous courage,” said Higgins, a retail clerk. “I bought the Kool-Aid on his ratting out Boeing.”
Judge Monica Benton had told jurors that whistle-blowing laws should not be considered when making a decision.
The case against Eastman had several holes — the biggest of which was that Eastman was an “authorized user” of the Boeing computer system, yet was being tried for unauthorized access to documents, said his public defender, Ramona Brandes.
Brandes spoke with several of the jurors after the trial.
“They were convinced that he took the material home,” she said. “But they were struggling with the authorization portion of the elements. That was very clearly the weakness in the law. … I’m pleased that the jury took their time with this case and spent so long trying to work through it.”
Eastman, who blogged about his experiences during the trial, had testified that he met with Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates, and had shown him portions of documents that Boeing viewed as sensitive.
Each count against Eastman corresponded with a document that charging papers say was the basis for a Seattle Times article. If convicted on all counts Eastman could have faced just more than 4 1/2 years in jail.
Boeing’s investigations team searched for three years to find the source of the leaks, and even checked the e-mails and phone records of senior leadership. It wasn’t until an anonymous e-mail to Boeing management in April 2006 that the company was able to discover the leak was coming from Eastman, who worked in Boeing’s propulsion systems division in Tukwila.
Eastman combed Boeing’s share drives — some of which were not password-protected — and downloaded thousands of documents via a thumb drive. After Eastman’s arrest in May 2006, Seattle police detectives found thousands of documents on Eastman’s home computer.
“It was my intention not to hurt Boeing in any way or release any info that would hurt Boeing,” Eastman testified during the trial. Eastman told the jury that he needed to access Boeing documents to expose that the Chicago-based company did not do a thorough job of inspecting planes in production.
Eastman said he was building up a relationship with Gates to prepare him for a larger story on inspections.
But during a three-year relationship with Gates, as senior deputy prosecutor Scott Peterson pointed out, Eastman did not tell his big story about inspections.
P-I reporter Andrea James can be reached at 206-448-8124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by flyboy at 4/7/08 2:12 p.m.
It all could have been avoided if Boeing supervisors had spent a little time listening to Eastman.
Posted by the screen name you at 4/7/08 2:27 p.m.
How much did this nonconviction cost the taxpayers?Is Boeing going to reimburse King County?
Posted by NAYSAYING TROLL at 4/7/08 2:43 p.m.
This prosecuter should be shown the door.
Let’s hope this arrogant company has had enough of their dirty laundry aired out in public as a result of this trial. By now everyone should be wondering if these planes are being properly inspected, or not.
Posted by takemeaway! at 4/7/08 2:48 p.m.
Remember: Big Brother (Boeing?) is watching these posts. The prosecution will be pressured to retry by Boeing and other interested parties in order to smear any attempt at a whistleblower lawsuit. I would be very surprised if prosecutorial discretion wins the day and this guy is not retried.
Posted by takemeaway! at 4/7/08 2:49 p.m.
I think this was a hung jury and not a mistrial. Uh,which one?
Posted by D_P at 4/7/08 2:57 p.m.
Ha ha! I hope this was jury nullification.
Posted by allsburg at 4/7/08 3:30 p.m.
A hung jury causes the judge to declare a mistrial. (Her alternative was to force the jury to go back and deliberate more.)Jury nullification occurs when a jury votes to acquit someone despite actually believing the person to be guilty. The jury might do so because they believe that while the person’s conduct was “illegal”, the surrounding context makes the jury feel that the person did “nothing wrong.”
Posted by Green Party at 4/7/08 3:37 p.m.
Posted by zinger at 4/7/08 4:13 p.m.
Eastman, I would not be shouting a victory against The Boeing Company and my mission must continue on. A 10-2 vote to convict is not even a moral victory. My impression is and will always be that you broke the law when you not only accessed share drives for your quote unquote database, but when you copied those files and uploaded them onto your personal computer at home, you crossed the line and broke the law. According to your own analogy, there should airplanes built by Boeing crashing daily because they were not inspected to your standards. That is and has not happened, so your premise of inadeqaucy falls apart and you do not have any point to jump on your podium (BLOG) and blow your horn. The smart people at Boeing have a master plan about safety and quality that far exceed your capability of understanding. You should spend some time exploring the good in things instead all of your derogatory sinical rhetoric slamming one of the better companies in this country.
Posted by mshowell at 4/7/08 4:26 p.m.
Thanks Zinger for putting it correctlly. I work with the QA of Boeing, and if anything, they all go overboard in looking at things. I will ask for just one thing to be looked at and next thing you know, they are ripping out a pickup for something you haven’t ask or is in your job title to do. Granted at the time I;’m a little POed, but then the error is fixed, by the person who made the error or their team leader.
Bottom line: I would and will trust a Boeing QA, I may not agree at things at times, but that’s human nature.
Posted by Green Party at 4/7/08 5:56 p.m.
mshowell, NOW ‘they all go overboard in looking at things.’It took a human sacrifice to do it that way, though. Think a little.
And you’d better hope that you are never caught between your conscience and your career (that is, assuming you have a conscience), because you are helping close the door on your own self.
Posted by zinger at 4/7/08 6:45 p.m.
There is no human sacrifice and Eastman has and had nothing to do with nor will he ever have input about the methodology of inspections or inspection intervals at Boeing. The inspection methodology at Boeing is so concise and precise that it allows a single individual to create doubt in the integrity of the product. However, in the case of Eastman, it is very obvious that he wants total control because he beleives he knows better than anyone else. In any industry, those people are shuffled aside for someone who is willing to listen and learn and be a team player. Why would you suspect he was transferred around frequently while he was an employee of Boeing ? It is because he would not listen and felt that he knew more than anyone around him. Furthermore, writing hate mail about Boeing QA to anybody any everybody is crazy. Who would understand his rhetoric when it so detailed and hate filled. The answer is Nobody would understand and just through the complaint letter in the garbage. He needs a re-trial and the prosecuting attorney ought to pay a little more attention to whom ends up as a juror. The two no votes ought to have never happened. The guy stole data, brought it home, and used it for his own personal vendetta against a pretty good employer
Posted by Green Party at 4/7/08 7:23 p.m.
You have obviously not done any reading on the case, zinger.
Posted by WBR Supporer at 4/7/08 7:41 p.m.
Although I will defend your right to say whatever thing it is you feel compelled to say, (the last time I checked this is still America and I want to believe we still have a Constitution), it is an indication of how ugly it is inside the Boeing Company when comments such as zinger’s and mshowell’s still stubbornly appear in forums such as this.
Considering the control and influence exerted by Boeing and the seemingly biased direction from the judge, it is a great credit to those members of this jury who saw through the flack and recognized a whistleblower situation for what it was. A person who in doing his job found unacceptable corruption and fraud that not only was a moral and ethical problem, but could have been a great risk to the military, American public, and anyone else flying in those planes, made the conscious decision to stand up to the problem and those responsible for it since the company was not willingly doing it on its own. A person who takes this kind of action is by definition a whistleblower. Rather than turning away and ignoring the wrongdoing, allowing pressure from management and from others within the company to silence him, rather than keeping quiet and continuing to collect his ample paycheck, this whistleblower tried to see to it that the problems were confronted and honestly resolved, at great personal cost to himself and his family.
That no level of his company would hold itself accountable to do the right thing, meant he had to go to the federal oversight agency that is supposed to be policing the Boeing Company’s manufacturing process, the FAA. Sadly, the FAA itself has been corrupted and is involved in allegations of malfeasance and fraud. There are many articles, and in fact other whistleblowers nationwide, within the Boeing Company and the government, who have been fighting to get these and other related problems stopped. Due to influences high in our government and what has been called in some quarters “an atmosphere of corruption,” even the Justice Department has been unable to effectively do its job. When FAA failed, Mr. Eastman went to his elected officials (Senators) and also the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, as he should have. Those are the correct paths for a whistleblower to take when as an employee he or she cannot get the problems resolved at a more informal level. At first Mr. Eastman was met with ambivalence and reticence from those who should have acted responsibly to see to it the allegations of wrongdoing were investigated thoroughly and if found to have merit, most assuredly rectified. In fact a later audit by DOT OIG vindicated some of Mr. Eastman’s claims. It is worth noting that if the company had worked to honestly resolve the problems in the first place internally when Mr. Eastman was first working his way up his command chain, none of this later public airing would have had to occur. And the flying public and military might well be better off as even now, we are being barraged by scores of reports of problems with planes causing them to be grounded, at least some of which are Boeing planes.
There are currently investigations into a number of civil and criminal matters still being investigated, which involve companies including Boeing. And I believe there are other whistleblowers, including Boeing, who are working to resolve some of the things that need to be addressed. I hope The Boeing Company will take a deep breath and clear their mind of any more delusions of impunity. It is my opinion that things will continue on until Boeing and any other companies with apparent ethics problems, clean up their collective acts.
Ethics is more than a required eight-hour course, once a year. It is a daily way of doing business. It is a way of working with your employees to assure that you really are creating the best quality product and providing the best possible work environment for your employees which creates sincere pride in belonging to the organization, not just a public PR campaign. It is true ethics that builds confidence and respect for your company. It is true ethics that inspire enthusiasm and support from the taxpayers and the public.
I do hope Boeing will step back and rather than waste any more time calling in political favors, and wasting any more tax payer money prosecuting a whistleblower, (who has a legally protected right to be a whistleblower), Boeing commits itself to real reform and repair of it’s business practices and operation. Something that will make it possible for more of us to unequivocally rally behind the company here at home, whether commercial or defense contracts are at issue.
As for Mr. Eastman, he has paid a huge price for his ethics and efforts. Green Party’s last comments are correct. Any one of you working at Boeing in areas caught up in the kind of negative workings exposed by this whistleblower’s case, are at risk, even if you are not a whistleblower yet. The very fact you have knowledge of wrongdoing makes you a threat. Someday, you may need to rely on our Justice system and what few protections are available to you as a whistleblower. Think hard on this before you make any more judgments of others or support that which is unsupportable.