3 charged in Flint water crisis, more charges coming - WNEM TV 5

3 charged in Flint water crisis, more charges coming

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Stephen Busch during Jan. 2015 interview with TV5. (Source: WNEM TV5) Stephen Busch during Jan. 2015 interview with TV5. (Source: WNEM TV5)
Michael Glasgow in March, 2016 (Source: WNEM TV5) Michael Glasgow in March, 2016 (Source: WNEM TV5)
Michael Glasgow (left), Michael Prysby (center), and Stephen Busch (left); (Source: WNEM) Michael Glasgow (left), Michael Prysby (center), and Stephen Busch (left); (Source: WNEM)
Michael Prysby (left) sits next to Stephen Busch (right) at the Flint water plant on April 25, 2014. (Source: WNEM) Michael Prysby (left) sits next to Stephen Busch (right) at the Flint water plant on April 25, 2014. (Source: WNEM)

Two state regulators and a Flint employee were charged Wednesday with evidence tampering and other felonies and misdemeanors, for the first time raising the lead-tainted water crisis in the Michigan city to a criminal case.

Months after officials conceded that a series of bad decisions had caused a disaster, charges were filed against a pair of state Department of Environmental Quality employees and a local water treatment supervisor and stem from an investigation by the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all," Schuette said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "I don't care where you live."

He added, with certainty, that there will be more charges - "I can guarantee you" - but did not provide a timeline.

For nearly 18 months, the financially troubled city of Flint, where the majority of residents are black, used the Flint River for tap water as a way to save money - a decision made by a state-appointed emergency manager - while a new pipeline was under construction. But the water wasn't treated to control corrosion. The result: Lead was released from aging pipes and fixtures as water flowed throughout the city of 100,000 residents.

"This is a road back to restoring faith and confidence in all Michigan families in their government," state Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday in announcing the first charges to come out of the disaster, blamed on a series of bad decisions by bureaucrats and political leaders.

Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, didn't acknowledge the problem until last fall when tests revealed high levels of lead in children. A task force appointed by the governor recently said the crisis was a "case of environmental injustice."

Flint played a key role in the Democrats' presidential nomination race in March, when Michigan held its primary, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debating in Flint and taking turns lambasting the Snyder administration.

Michael Prysby, a DEQ district engineer, and Stephen Busch, who is a supervisor with the DEQ's Office of Drinking Water, were both charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence and misdemeanor violations of water law.

They're both accused of failing to order chemicals to control corrosion. Michigan environmental regulators have acknowledged misreading federal regulations and wrongly telling the city that the chemicals were not needed.

Michigan DEQ Director of Communications Melanie Brown tells TV5 both Prysby and Busch have been suspended without pay as of April 20.

They were arraigned on April 20 and both plead not guilty. They will appear in court on May 4 for a probable cause hearing.

Prysby and Busch have been released on a personal recognizance bond.

Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow also was charged Wednesday with tampering with evidence for changing lead water-testing results and willful neglect of duty as a public servant.

Prysby recently took another job in the agency.

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.

The maximum sentences for each of the felonies range from four to five years in prison, with fines for each in a range between $5,000-$10,000.

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

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.

State officials were slow to respond to experts' and residents' concerns. After the crisis broke open, DEQ Director Dan Wyant and his spokesman, Brad Wurfel, resigned. Snyder announced the firing of Liane Shekter Smith, the former chief of the DEQ's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.

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

Michigan Attorney Bill Schuette says "no one is off the table" in his investigation of the Flint water crisis.

Schuette was asked more than once whether Gov. Rick Snyder, a fellow Republican, was being investigated. He said there is "no target and no one is off the table."

Schuette held a news conference Wednesday after charging two state employees and a Flint utility worker with felonies and misdemeanors.

Snyder has said his environmental regulators failed miserably. He insists he didn't know about dire lead problems until last fall.

Snyder said charges against two state employees and a Flint utility worker in connection with the city's lead-tainted water crisis are "deeply troubling."

Snyder says Wednesday that if the accusations are true it would take the issue "to a whole new level."

Congressman Dan Kildee released the following statement on the charges:

“Justice in the Flint water crisis is important and I support any investigation, including at the state and federal level, that are led by the facts and seek to hold those responsible accountable. Today’s criminal charges are one step to bringing justice to Flint families who are the victims of this terrible tragedy.

“There are many forms of justice, and one of them is making it right for the people of Flint. More resources are needed right now for Flint families who continue to face this public health emergency. The state, having created this man-made crisis, needs to step up in a big way with more resources. In Congress, I, along with Michigan’s Senators, continue to pursue any way around Republican objections to a federal Flint aid package.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich released this statement:

“Although this brings us another step closer to the truth, it’s still important to understand why and how people made such tragic decisions. My community is still struggling, and justice cannot truly be served until the citizens of Flint receive a more urgent response to this crisis.” 

The Michigan Democratic Party released the following statement on behalf of Party Chair Brandon Dillon:

“Anyone involved in causing the Flint water crisis deserves to be held accountable. However, if the charges filed by Bill Schuette today are the extent of his so-called investigation, then justice has not been served,” said Brandon Dillon, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.

“Every individual criminally responsible for poisoning Flint’s children should be prosecuted, and that includes the officials who were in charge – all the way up through the Snyder administration to the governor – not just low-level employees who don’t have the luxury of billing Michigan taxpayers millions of dollars for their criminal defense.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver released this statement:

“We do not take the charges filed by the attorney general lightly, and will place Mr. Glasgow on administrative leave until we learn more about this legal matter, keeping in mind that every person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The community of Flint has suffered from this man-made water disaster for two years now. I feel it’s important and necessary for those who played a part in this crisis to be held accountable. There is plenty of blame to go around, from state policies that cut revenue sharing to cities such as Flint (where we have lost $63 million in the past 15 years), to state budget cuts that the U.S. EPA said diminished the ability of the state’s water quality enforcement operations. I’m not here to make judgements on anyone, but I do want the facts and I think the citizens of Flint deserve that."

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley released this statement:

“It’s unconscionable to think that we have civil service employees in charge of testing the water that we drink, cook with and bathe in that would allegedly falsify results. In America, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty holds true. However, at the very minimum, this is a breach of public trust, and individuals in both Flint and across the state are questioning those still in power with these departments.

“The bigger question the public has to ask now is were these civil service employees pressured to perform in such a manner, and if so, how far up the chain of command will these criminal charges extend? We must also ask if they acted alone or in concert to undermine an entire community’s public health, and I urge Attorney General Schuette to continue his investigation and dig deeper beyond these three state and city employees.”

Copyright 2016 Associated Press/WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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