Three government employees charged in connection with the Flint water crisis “failed Michigan families,” and the charges against them “are only the beginning” of a lengthy and exhaustive probe, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday.
While Flint residents have said they feel the criminality that led to poisonous water being pumped into their homes stems from the top, namely Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, Schuette promised that no one guilty of wrongdoing would escape justice, no matter “how big a shot you are.”
“No one is above the law, not on my watch,” he said.
The attorney general held a news conference Wednesday shortly after Genesee County prosecutor David Leyton announced the charges against Mike Glasgow, a former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city’s utilities administrator, and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality district water supervisor Stephen Busch and district water engineer Mike Prysby.
“They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all. I don’t care where you live,” Schuette said.
• Glasgow is charged with tampering with evidence, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. The tampering charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
He allegedly 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, according to Schuette’s office.
• Busch is charged with misconduct in office, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to tamper with evidence — all felonies — and two misdemeanor violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, one involving treatment, the other involving monitoring.
The attorney general’s office alleges Busch misled county, state and federal officials; conspired to manipulate monitoring reports; tampered with the 2015 report named in the charges against Glasgow; failed to use corrosion control treatment and/or refused to mandate the treatment once dangerous lead levels were detected and manipulated; and he manipulated water samples by telling residents to “pre-flush” their taps the night before their samples were drawn and/or failed to collect required samples and/or removed results from samples slated to be included in the 2015 report.
• Prysby faces the same allegations and charges as Busch, plus an additional felony charge of misconduct in office. That count states he authorized a permit to the Flint Water Treatment Plant knowing it “was deficient in its ability to provide clean and safe drinking water for the citizens.”
That charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The maximum penalties allowed for the other charges against Busch and Prysby are five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the misconduct count, four years and $10,000 for the conspiracy count, four years and $5,000 for the tampering count, and one year each for the Safe Drinking Water Act violations. The latter also carry $5,000 fines for each day the accused were found to be in violation of the act.
The next step in the process is a formal arraignment, Leyton, the prosecutor, said.
Residents want more charges
For some affected Flint residents, the charges don’t go far enough, and they believe the criminality in this case reaches the top of state government.
Nakiya Wakes said holding three officials accountable “is a start, but only a start.”
“I won’t rest until the governor is charged. It was his person who pushed the change of water supply through and he knew there were problems but did nothing,” Wakes said. “We are still suffering here. And his higher-ups in this mess need to be held responsible, too.”
Laura McIntyre said it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if Snyder, the governor, isn’t charged, and she worries that Wednesday’s announcement of charges represented “just two to three people who will take the fall for actions that have included many, many more people. It definitely goes much higher.”
She added, “This is exactly what we were afraid of. That it would fall down to a couple of individuals.”
In addition to Snyder, she would like to see former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley charged for the decisions he made — or precautions he didn’t take — in switching the drinking source.
In a statement released by his spokesman, Snyder said he has supported the probe and promised the state would pursue evidence of wrongdoing and hold those responsible accountable.
“The people of Flint and across Michigan are owed straight answers about how the Flint water crisis happened,” the statement said.
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 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality also failed to treat the corrosive water, which ate into the city’s iron and lead pipes, causing lead to leach into the drinking water.
Also detected in the water were high levels of E. coli, carcinogens and other toxins.
More than 50 lawsuits have been filed since January, though one federal class-action was dropped Tuesday over a jurisdictional issue. Though the state made the decision to switch the water source, 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.
City employees were involved in treating water at the Flint Water Treatment Plant as well as in testing residents’ water for the state.
One class-action lawsuit says residents have suffered skin lesions, hair loss, vision loss, memory loss, depression and anxiety. There are also concerns about miscarriages, imminent learning disabilities in children and Legionnaires’ disease.
Though Flint’s water supply is “definitely on its path to recovery,” concerns about lead and other issues hinder the cleanup of the system’s corroded pipes, according to the Virginia Tech researcher who exposed the water crisis in the city of 100,000.
Professor Marc Edwards said last week that lead contamination levels continue to surpass acceptable federal standards, and he urged residents to keep using bottled or filtered water for cooking or drinking.
“We’re still drinking bottled water, using the filters to wash our hands, hoping that we’re not being poisoned by the shower,” McIntyre said.
The Flint resident worries about her family, especially her three children, and she said she hasn’t seen any large-scale changes in her hometown.
“It’s just been so discouraging and disheartening,” she said. “We’re exhausted and really nothing has changed. None of our pipes have been changed. It’s like they’re waiting us out … waiting for us to quit.”
Snyder caught heat this week for announcing he will drink filtered Flint water for the next 30 days. Snyder said he’s doing it to “alleviate some of the skepticism and mistrust,” but many on social media viewed it as an empty public relations stunt.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number and nature of the charges against the three men.