A Flint, Michigan, judge has approved criminal charges against three government employees involved in the city’s water crisis, marking the first time officials have been brought to book since Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in January launched an investigation into the public health calamity.
The investigative team is tasked with probing possible criminal liability in the Flint water emergency, which began in April 2014 when the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the corrosive Flint River. That was followed by a spike in blood lead levels and other symptoms of lead poisoning in residents.
District Judge Tracy Collier-Nix on Wednesday approved felony and misdemeanor charges against two state regulators and one Flint employee, including charges of manipulating monitoring reports and the results of lead-in-water testing, and failing to require corrosion control treatment of Flint River water—a measure that scientists say would have prevented the water from eating away at lead pipes and fixtures in Flint’s aging plumbing system.
State and federal agencies have for months engaged in a protracted game of political ping-pong over who bears ultimate responsibility for allowing some 100,000 mostly low-income Black residents to consume, cook with, and bathe in lead-contaminated water, which causes, among other things, permanent neurological damage in young children.
Michael Prysby, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) district engineer, faces six criminal counts, including misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, and violation of the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act. Stephen Busch, a supervisor with the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water, faces charges on five criminal counts related to the same violations.
Flint Utilities Administrator Michael Glasgow has been slapped with two counts: willful neglect of office and tampering with evidence.
Busch is on paid leave following suspension, and Prysby has taken another job with the state DEQ, the Associated Press reported.
A felony charge of misconduct in office carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, while conspiracy to tamper with evidence carries a maximum four-year prison term, according to a Detroit Free Press report.
“These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come. That I can guarantee you,” Schuette said Wednesday at a press conference, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“So many things went so terribly wrong, and tragically wrong, in Flint,” he added, explaining that no one has been ruled out from investigation. “Everything’s on the table,” Schuette said.