Michigan AG on Flint water crisis charges: This is only the beginning

2 state regulators, Flint employee charged with evidence tampering

FLINT, Mich. – Two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees and a city of Flint employee are criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis.

The charges were authorized Wednesday for MDEQ's Mike Prysby and Stephen Busch, and Flint employee Michael Glasgow.

[View the complaint here]

Prysby and Busch are charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering evidence. They are suspended without pay and were arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

Glasgow is charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of office. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Glasgow is on administrative leave. 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette formally announced the charges during a press conference.

"These charges are only the beginning. There will be more to come. That, I can guarantee," he said. "They failed us all.  I don't care where you live."

Timeline of Flint Water Crisis

April 2014 In an effort to save money, Flint begins drawing its water from the Flint River instead of relying on water from Detroit. The move is considered temporary while the city waits to connect to a new regional water system. Residents immediately complain about the smell, taste and appearance of the water, and raise health concerns, reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems.
October 2014 A General Motors engine plant stops using Flint water, saying it rusts parts.
January 2015 Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water system, but Flint leaders insist the water is safe.
March 2015 Flint promises to spend $2.24 million on immediate improvements to its water supply. Later in the month, city officials say water quality has improved and meets all state and federal standards for safety.
Sept. 24, 2015 A group of doctors urges Flint to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children. State regulators insist the water is safe.
Sept. 29, 2015 Gov. Rick Snyder pledges to take action in response to the lead levels -- the first acknowledgment by the state that lead is a problem.
October 2015 Snyder announces that the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools, and days later calls for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit's system.
Oct. 15, 2015 The Michigan Legislature and Snyder approve nearly $9.4 million in aid to Flint, including $6 million to help switch its drinking water back to Detroit.
Nov. 3, 2015 Voters elect newcomer Karen Weaver over the incumbent.
Dec. 29, 2015 Snyder accepts the resignation of Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologizes for what occurred in Flint.
Jan. 5, 2016 Snyder declares a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirm that they are investigating. A week later, the Michigan National Guard begins helping distribute bottled water and filters, while Snyder asks the federal government for help.
Jan. 13, 2016 Michigan health officials report an increase in Legionnaires' disease cases -- some fatal -- over the past two years in the county that includes Flint.
Jan. 14, 2016 Snyder asks the Obama administration for major disaster declaration and more federal aid. The White House provides federal aid and an emergency declaration on Jan. 16, but not the disaster declaration.
Jan. 20, 2016 Snyder releases more than 270 pages of emails about the Flint water crisis that show debate over who is to blame and offer insight into the state's response -- the first batch of several that are rolled out in the coming months.
Jan. 25, 2016 Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette begins an "independent review" into the Flint crisis.
February 2016 Several lawsuits are filed over the lead-tainted water crisis, including some that name Gov. Rick Snyder and public employees.
Mid-March 2016 Snyder, the state-appointed emergency manager who oversaw Flint when the water source was switched to the river and other state officials testify in front of Congress.
March 23, 2016 A governor-appointed panel concludes that the state of Michigan is "fundamentally accountable" for the crisis because of decisions made by environmental regulators.
April 20, 2016 Three state officials are expected to be charged in the Michigan attorney general's investigation -- the first to be levied in a probe that will likely expand.

Flint water was contaminated with toxic lead

For nearly 18 months after Flint's water source was switched while the city was under state financial management, residents drank and bathed with improperly treated water that coursed through aging pipes and fixtures, releasing toxic lead.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder announced in October that the city would return from the Flint River to its earlier source of treated water, the Detroit municipal system. But by that time, dangerously high levels of the toxic metal had been detected in the blood of some residents, including children, for whom it can cause lower IQs and behavioral problems.

Read: Snyder drinks filtered Flint water, says he'll drink it for a month

The city has been under a state of emergency for more than four months, and people there are using filters and bottled water.

Complete Coverage: Flint Water Crisis

In January, Schuette opened an investigation and appointed a special counsel to lead the probe because his office also is defending Snyder and others in lawsuits filed over the water crisis. The state investigation team has more than 20 outside attorneys and investigators and a budget of $1.5 million.

Flint resident Shirley Snowden's fridge is filled with bottled water. She said the crisis has affected everything about the way she lives.

"My cooking style done changed because I don't wash the greens or nothing like that in the water that I'm paying for," Snowden said.

She said it's been a long time coming for someone to be held accountable.

"I want to see what Bill Schuette is really going to do," Snowden said.

Andrea Jordan lives next door. She's anxious to hear what will come out of the investigation.

"Right now, we don't know what the future will hold for us and our kids, so it needs to be criminal charges. Someone needs to be held accountable for what has taken place," Jordan said.

But she's also a little hesitant.

"I have a lack of trust so at this point. Yes, someone needs to be held accountable, but until something actually happens, I don't really trust what the political leaders are doing now," Jordan said.

Experts suggest link to Legionnaires' outbreak

In addition to the lead contamination, outside experts also have suggested a link between the Flint River and a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak. There were at least 91 cases, including 12 deaths, across Genesee County, which contains Flint, during a 17-month period. That represents a five-fold increase over what the county averaged before.

The failure to deploy lead corrosion controls after the city's switch to the Flint River is considered a catastrophic mistake. The MDEQ has acknowledged misreading federal regulations and wrongly telling the city that the chemicals were not needed.

Task force report: 'A story of government failure'

Read: Michigan to urge toughest lead-test rules in US

State officials were slow to respond to experts' and residents' concerns. After the crisis broke open, MDEQ Director Dan Wyant and the department's communications director Brad Wurfel resigned.

Snyder announced the firing of Liane Shekter Smith, the former chief of the MDEQ's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. A district supervisor in the office, Stephen Busch, is on paid leave after being suspended earlier. Mike Prysby, a district engineer, recently took another job in the agency.

A supervisor at Flint's water plant, Mike Glasgow, testified at a legislative hearing that Prysby told him phosphate was not needed to prevent lead corrosion from pipes until after a year of testing.

Susan Hedman, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Chicago-based Midwest office, also resigned.










About the Authors:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.