Flint water crisis: New criminal charges are brought
Six current and former Michigan state employees were charged Friday in a widening criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis, according to a source close to the investigation.
With the latest round of charges, a total of nine current and former state and local officials face counts ranging from willful neglect of duty to conspiracy over allegations they withheld information from the public about lead contamination in the city’s drinking water.
One of the highest-ranking officials charged Friday is Liane Shekter-Smith, former chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She is charged with one count of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty.
The two other Department of Environmental Quality workers are water quality analyst Adam Rosenthal, who faces charges of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, tampering with evidence and conspiracy-tampering with evidence; and Patrick Cook, community drinking water unit specialist, who is charged with willful neglect of duty, misconduct in office and conspiracy.
The source identified the state Department of Health and Human Services workers as Corinne Miller, former director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist; Nancy Peeler, director of the for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program; and Robert Scott, data manager for the Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention Program. They each face one count of misconduct in office, one count of conspirac, and one count of willful neglect of duty.
Attorneys for the six current and former state workers were not immediately available.
When state Attorney General Bill Schuette in April announced charges against three other officials, residents called for more arrests.
“No one is above the law, not on my watch,” Schuette vowed.
Friday’s charges stem from his long investigation of a crisis that began to unfold in spring 2014 when the state opted to switch the source of the city’s water.
What is happening Friday?
Schuette and Special Counsel Todd Flood were to hold an 11:30 a.m. ET news conference to formally announce the charges.
This is the second announcement of criminal charges in the case.
What is the crisis?
Two years ago, in a move to save money, the state switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a tributary notorious for its filth. The Department of Environmental Quality failed to treat the corrosive water, which ate into the city’s iron and lead pipes, causing lead to leach into the drinking water.
Last year, researchers and medical personnel discovered high levels of lead in Flint residents, especially children. Lead has been tied to a host of medical problems, especially in the nervous system.
It’s a massive public health crisis that has drawn national attention, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Already one group of investigators has concluded that government at every single level failed Flint.
Who has been charged so far?
City employee Mike Glasgow and state employees Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby.
Busch, a district water supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Prysby, a district water engineer, each face six charges.
Accusations include misleading federal regulatory officials, manipulating water sampling and tampering with reports. Busch and Prysby have pleaded not guilty.
Glasgow reached a plea deal on other charges.
Has anyone agreed to work with prosecutors?
In May, Glasgow gave a plea of no contest to willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor, citing reasons of possible civil liability, according to his attorney, Robert Harrison. A felony charge of tampering with evidence was dropped.
Glasgow tampered with a 2015 report, “Lead and Copper Report and Consumer Notice of Lead Result,” and failed to perform his duties as a treatment plant operator, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has said.
Glasgow told CNN that Busch and Prysby directed him to alter water quality reports and remove the highest lead levels.
What about the governor?
Gov. Rick Snyder has maintained he has done nothing wrong. Snyder, a Republican, has withstood calls to resign over the water disaster. Residents have called for him to be charged.
“Was it actually criminal? Or was it poor decision-making?” Snyder said in April. “And again, I’m not looking for vindication. This is about getting to the truth, getting to accountability.”
How is the water now?
The city switched back to the Lake Huron water supply in October. In January, the governor declared a state of emergency, one month after the city’s mayor did.
President Barack Obama visited Flint in May and spoke after a briefing from officials on response efforts to the lead poisoning. After the session, Obama took a sip from a glass of filtered Flint water, insisting that residents should feel safe if they also drank water that had been filtered.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.
“The problems in Flint are not over,” she said. “The water is still not safe to drink or cook with from the tap. Our infrastructure is broken, leaking, and rusting away.”
On Flint’s website, the city advises residents to “continue using water filters and bottled water while long-term solutions are being developed.”
How many civil lawsuits are there?
More than 50 lawsuits have been filed since January. The state made the decision to switch the water source, but some lawsuits accuse the city of being complicit by not doing enough during the 18 months that residents received their drinking water from the Flint River.
In June, Schuette sued two companies that were assisting Flint with its water treatment process. The charges listed in the lawsuit include professional negligence, public nuisance and fraud.
Veolia, a French water company, called the suit “outrageous.”
“The allegations against Veolia are false, inaccurate, and unwarranted,” the company said in a written statement. “Sadly for the citizens of Flint and throughout Michigan, the lawsuit represents the latest attempt to deflect responsibility by government officials and representatives who caused and are responsible for this situation.”
Texas engineering services firm Lockwood, Andrews and Newman, or LAN, said it did the work it was supposed to do in “a responsible and responsible manner.”
“Decisions not to provide appropriate corrosion control, which may have resulted in a decline in water quality, were made by the city and the (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), not by LAN,” the Texas company said.
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Linh Tran contributed to this report.