6 Michigan state workers concealed truth in Flint water crisis, attorney general says

FLINT, Mich. – Michigan's attorney general has charged six more state employees with crimes related to the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint.

Bill Schuette said the former Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services employees were "criminally wrong" to "conceal the truth." All are charged with misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and various conspiracy counts.

“There is an overall theme and repeated pattern,” Schuette said. “Each of these individuals attempted to bury or cover-up, to downplay or to hide information that contradicted their own narrative, their story. And their narrative and their story was, ‘There’s nothing wrong with Flint water.’”

The poor, majority black city of 100,000 used the Flint River for tap water for 18 months to save money. Residents used improperly treated water that coursed through aging pipes and fixtures, releasing toxic lead.

It's the second round of Flint water-related charges that the Republican attorney general has brought. In April, two state regulators and a city employee were charged with official misconduct, evidence-tampering and other offenses.

Schuette said his investigative team has interviewed more than 200 people. 

"We’re a long way from done. We’re way far from done," he said. “Some people failed to act, others minimized harm down and arrogantly chose to ignore data, some intentionally altered figures and covered up significant health risks. Two companies committed fraud and were negligent and made a bad situation worse. The result was water was poisoned and children have been exposed to extremely high levels of lead.”

Details of charges

Liane Shekter-Smith, former Chief of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance

Charges allege that former high-ranking MDEQ official Liane Shekter-Smith, then-Chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, held key responsibilities for ensuring the provision of clean, safe drinking water for the citizens of Flint. 

Despite receiving notice of citizen complaints about water quality and knowledge of a Legionnaires outbreak and issues with lead levels, Shekter-Smith, in her high-ranking position that included supervision of key MDEQ employees, not only allegedly failed to take corrective action or notify public health officials but, in fact took steps to mislead and conceal evidence from health officials in phone calls revealed by the investigation.

She is charged with misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty.

Adam Rosenthal, Water Quality Analyst

Charges allege that current MDEQ employee Adam Rosenthal, who worked in Shekter-Smith’s section, was warned by Flint Water Treatment Plant officials that they were not ready for operations and was later warned by the EPA that high levels of lead is usually due to particulate lead, signaling a corrosion problem. 

Charges allege that in 2015, Rosenthal willfully participated in the manipulation of lead testing results and falsely reported that the 90th percentile of the results for lead water testing was below the federal action level. 

Eventually, a July 28, 2015 report was altered to exclude some high lead tests and Rosenthal forwarded the altered report on. Previously charged MDEQ employees Busch and Prsyby were also allegedly involved. 

He is charged with willful neglect of duty, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to tamper with evidence. 

Patrick Cook, Specialist for Community Drinking Water Unit

Charges allege that Cook, who is the current MDEQ official responsible for compliance with lead and copper monitoring, signed a permit in 2014 that was the last approval necessary for the use of the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Cook subsequently was aware of problems with the water in Flint but allegedly took no corrective action in his duty to ensure the provision of clean, safe drinking water in Flint. 

Cook allegedly mislead the EPA regarding the necessity of using corrosion control in Flint after the switch when he allegedly forwarded information he knew to be false to the EPA in response to its inquire. 

He is charged with willful neglect of duty, misconduct in office and conspiracy. 

Nancy Peeler, Robert Scott and Corinne Miller

 In July of 2015, Nancy Peeler, Director of the MDHHS Program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, requested an internal report on blood lead level data in Flint children.

That report, created on July 28, 2015 using sound scientific principles, showed a significant spike -- higher than usual -- in blood lead tests for Flint children for the summer of 2014. However, the charges allege that that report was buried, never forwarded by Peeler or others to appropriate health officials. 

Peeler then joined with a different MDHHS employee, Robert Scott, the Data Manager for the Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program, and created a second report, issued two days after the initial report. The second report falsely indicated no statistically significant rise in blood lead levels of children in the summer of 2014. 

Corinne Miller, the then-Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist, received the first report but instructed others not to take action, rebuffing other employees who asked about next steps of action.

The charges allege that Miller later instructed another MDHHS employee to delete emails concerning the original blood lead data report from July 28, 2015.

The investigation also revealed that on day the first blood lead level report was created, July 28, 2015, there was communication between MDEQ Defendant Liane Shekter-Smith and MDHHS.

This was the same time that MDEQ defendants allegedly were manipulating lead water results to conceal unsafe lead levels.

Despite knowledge to the contrary, the investigation showed that Shekter-Smith allegedly told MDHHS that there were no lead issues with Flint’s drinking water. 

All three are charged with willful neglect of duty, misconduct in office and conspiracy. 

Joint statement from DEQ and MDHHS

"Based upon the filing of the charges, the DEQ and MDHHS will each be suspending two current employees without pay until further review of the charges can be conducted. Two additional state employees charged are no longer with DEQ or MDHHS. DEQ and MDHHS will continue to monitor the legal proceedings and evaluate next steps as appropriate."

READ: Michigan AG suing 2 water engineering firms who 'botched' Flint water

CHECK: Local 4's Special Coverage of the Flint Water Crisis

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