Three officials have been charged for their involvement in the Flint water crisis, including for tampering with evidence, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Wednesday. These charges mark the first to be filed against government employees in response to the situation.
And more charges should be expected, according to Schuette.
“These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come,” he said. “That I can guarantee you.”
The men — Michael Prysby, an engineer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ); Stephen Busch, a district supervisor for the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance; and Michael Glasgow, Flint’s utilities manager — face various charges that carry consequences from fines to up to five years in jail. Prysby and Busch have both been suspended without pay, while Glasgow is on paid administrative leave.
Flint’s water became contaminated with lead after the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River — which was already known to be polluted — in an effort to save money. The DEQ did not treat the water for corrosion. City residents immediately noticed their water now looked, smelled and tasted off. For months, state officials assured residents the water was safe — even though water coolers providing safe drinking water were being delivered as early as January 2015, about nine months before the city informed the public about the crisis and provided them with safe water.
In addition to the lead poisoning that has already had long-term effects on the city’s residents and their children, the city is also looking at a possible link between the switch in the water supply and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease seen in the county.
The criminal charges follow an in-depth probe into the scandal, done by a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Snyder’s selected panel concluded that state officials carried most of the blame for what happened and cited “government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice” as causes.
Flint residents have expressed their anger with the governor and Wednesday asked if he would potentially face charges.
“There’s no target, and no one’s off the table,” Schuette said.
In a statement Wednesday, Snyder said the charges “raise what happened to a whole new level and we take that very seriously.”
“I have fully supported the efforts of these investigations,” the governor said. “I have demanded more answers about what happened because the people of Flint and all of Michigan deserve to know the truth. We will vigorously pursue any evidence of wrongdoing and we will hold people accountable.”
Prysby has been charged with two counts of misconduct in office, two counts of violating the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and one count of tampering with evidence.
Busch also faces two counts of violating the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and one count each of misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence.
Glasgow has been charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of office.
The men wrongfully instructed residents to “pre-flush” their taps prior to collecting water samples for testing, which altered test results. They also excluded certain samples when calculating lead levels.
Prysby and Busch have both pleaded not guilty. Glasgow has not yet appeared in court.
Emails between government officials discussing the situation have been made public, including one sent by Glasgow (which both Prysby and Busch received) about a week before the city switched water systems where seems to indicate he is not confident in making the switch.
“I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon. If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will be against my direction,” he wrote. “I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”
As a result of the contamination, Flint residents remain fearful of the water in their own homes and continue drinking and using bottled water for their daily activities. According to Schuette, the government “failed Michigan families.”
“Indeed, they failed us all,” he said. “I don’t care where you live.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who just took office last fall, said “there’s plenty of blame to go around.”
“The community of Flint has suffered from this man-made water disaster for two years now,” she said. “I feel it’s important and necessary for those who played a part in this crisis to be held accountable.”