Kelly Golden

Kelly Golden

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'I can't do this any longer ... ENOUGH!!'

Charleston Police release investigation report of Boeing whistleblower death

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston Police Department released their findings in the death of a Boeing whistleblower.

John Barnett, 62, was found dead inside his truck on March 9 with a gunshot wound to his head outside of the Holiday Inn located at 301 Savannah Highway. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Barnett, who worked for Boeing for 32 years, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging safety concerns. The United States Department of Labor was working through the discovery phase of its investigation and is set to begin hearings on that complaint this June.

Police said they found no evidence of forced entry or a struggle inside the vehicle. The orange 2015 Dodge Ram truck’s key fob was found in Barnett’s pocket.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office determined Barnett’s death to be a suicide.

Barnett had been in Charleston providing a deposition.

Officers located Barnett with a silver Smith and Wesson handgun in his right hand. Ballistics confirmed the bullet recovered at the scene and the casing had been fired from the gun found in Barnett’s hand. Barnett legally purchased the gun. A police report states Barnett’s finger was still on the trigger when officers attempted to remove the gun from his hand. A police report states no fingerprints were recovered from the gun.

A notebook containing a note written by Barnett was found in the passenger seat. Police said the note suggested Barnett was “going through a period of serious personal distress.” Barnett’s fingerprints were found on the note and notebook. Police said three prints were inconclusive because they lacked detail for identification.

The writings express Barnett’s frustration toward Boeing and whistleblower protection.

“I pray Boeing pays,” the note reads. “Whistleblowing protection is f----- up too!”

The writings leave messages for Barnett’s loved ones as well.

“Family and friends I love you,” it reads. “I found my purpose! I’m at peace!”

Police said this note and notebook were found in the passenger seat of John Barnett's truck. Barnett was in Charleston giving a deposition against his former employer, Boeing, when he was found shot in the head inside his truck on March 9. (Charleston Police Department)Photo: Charleston Police Department

“John was deeply concerned about the safety of the aircraft and flying public, and had identified some serious defects that he felt were not adequately addressed,” Barnett’s brother, Rodney, said in a family statement to The Associated Press. “He said that Boeing had a culture of concealment and was putting profits over safety.”

Rodney Barnett said working at Boeing created stress for John.

“He was suffering from PTSD and anxiety attacks as a result of being subjected to the hostile work environment at Boeing, which we believe led to his death,” the brother said.

Boeing, in a one-sentence statement, said, “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

In 2019, Barnett told The New York Times about quality issues at Boeing’s factory in South Carolina, where the 787 jetliner is assembled.

Barnett said he found discarded metal shavings near wiring for the flight controls. He said it could have been “catastrophic” if the sharp pieces had pierced the wiring. He said after he complained to superiors, they moved him to another part of the plant.

Barnett told the BBC that same year that up to a quarter of the oxygen systems on the 787 – a two-aisle plane that airlines use mostly for international flights – might not work because of faulty parts installed at the Boeing plant. Boeing denied the claim.

Barnett filed a complaint on Jan. 16, 2017, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging Boeing retaliated against him in violation of the Employee Protection Provisions Act.

Barnett claims Boeing subjected him to a hostile work environment for engaging in whistleblower-protected activity, which caused severe stress that led Barnett to take medical leave and early retirement.

Boeing tried to dismiss Barnett’s claims, arguing he did not present facts sufficient to prove his claims. But the judge denied Boeing’s partial motion to dismiss on March 31, 2022.

On Nov. 14, 2023, Barnett filed a motion to compel discovery, a move to ask the court to enforce a request for information relevant to a case.

Court documents state Boeing’s efforts to identify records of other complaints made by other employees at the South Carolina location of adverse actions taken in response to reports of safety or quality violations are woefully lacking. The judge adds that Boeing has had the requests for over a year.

The judge ruled on Dec. 21, 2023, that Boeing must produce the documents sought by Barnett.

The discovery phase was set to be completed by March 30 with a formal hearing set to take place during the week of June 24, documents from the Department of Labor state.

Attorneys Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz released documents in the case, which in great detail paint a picture of the “gas lighting campaign” and repeated retaliation they allege their client faced while working at Boeing before retiring early, which they believe was due to the “hostile work environment” he faced.

That included being blocked from other jobs after filing complaints. At one point, the suit claims Barnett was listed as #1 on an email titled “Quality Managers to get rid of.”

They released the following statement:

The lawyers representing Boeing whistleblower John Barnett have been asked by numerous reporters for a copy of the complaint in John Barnett’s AIR-21 whistleblower retaliation case. In the interest of transparency, we are releasing a redacted copy of the Amended Complaint (filed May 4, 2021) and the Court’s May 31, 2022 decision denying Boeing’s Partial Motion to Dismiss.

They claim Barnett was “removed from investigations of defects in retaliation for his insistence that the problems be fully investigated and remedied” and was penalized in performance reviews for using email to follow up on issues instead of “face to face.”

These complaints in the suit include:

-Boeing maintained an “illegal” program not approved by the FAA “that allowed mechanics to inspect and approve their own work” known as “Multi-function Process Performer” to meet deadlines; Barnett’s performance rating later went from a 40 to 16.

-Managers “pushing Barnett to work outside of the proper procedures”

-Parts were “stolen” from one airplane and installed in another without any documentation; all corrective action was “canceled” without an investigation

In August 2014, the company failed to clean up titanium slivers from fasteners used to hold down floorboards that littered wire bundles and electrical components despite potential electrical shorting. Barnett was later removed from the project after complaining.

In September 2014, Barnett learned he was issued a corrective action plan for documenting process violations in writing one month later against company rules to immediately notify employees claiming it was a “surprise attack.”

In July 2016, Barnett was ordered to “let it go” after objecting to close out more than 400 nonconforming Shop Order Instance parts without investigation while discovering 200 that had been “pencil whipped” or fabricated.

In August 2016, Barnett was criticized and removed from an investigation into emergency passenger oxygen tanks where it’s estimated approximately 25% in 787s are not functional, after he pushed for leadership to investigate.

In September 2016, Barnett was removed as a team leader after discovering that all previously delivered airplanes and missing/incomplete/incorrect serial number data after urging corrections and notifications to customers were needed

That same month, Barnett’s manager reportedly “took a defective part” from the scrap bin and had it installed on another airplane without any documentation or rework against FAA requirements and the company’s procedures. Barnett claimed he was blocked from a 737 Propulsion Quality Manager position after filing an HR complaint, which Boeing found was “unsubstantiated”

Barnett filed a first complaint with OSHA in January 2017. Nearly four years later in November 2020, OSHA found there was “no reasonable cause to believe” Boeing had violated AIR-21.

Barnett filed an objection to OSHA’s findings and requested a hearing before the Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Barnett worked for the company for 32 years, nearly half as a Quality Manager. He had expected to work at least another decade, but alleges that “stress and emotional duress that he was subjected to as a result of Boeing’s retaliatory conduct” prompted a doctor-ordered medical leave of absence and later an early retirement in 2017, according to the suit.

In May 2022, a judge denied Boeing’s partial request to dismiss all but one complaint due for “failure to state a claim” and “untimeliness” of Barnett’s complaints.

Boeing released a statement on March 20, 2024:

“We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
Boeing reviewed and addressed quality issues that Mr. Barnett raised before he retired in 2017, as well as other quality issues referred to in the complaint. We refer you to OSHA with any questions about its 2020 disposition of Mr. Barnett’s claims.”

Copyright 2024 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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