Flint Update: Criminal Charges Just the Beginning

  • Michigan AG charges three public employees re Flint water crisis;
  • Alleged offenses include felony evidence tampering re water tests;
  • State hopes to start rebuilding badly shaken public trust.

Three Michigan officials, including a Flint water administrator and a two employees of the state’s Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) are now facing criminal charges relating to their alleged actions during the stricken city’s still-unfolding, lead-tainted drinking water crisis.

On April 20, Genesee County (MI) District Court Judge Tracy L. Collier Nix authorized a dozen felony and misdemeanor charges against the three stemming from a months-long probe by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. The charges:

  • Stephen Busch, 40, MDEQ District 8 Water Supervisor (3 felonies, 2 misdemeanor);
  • Michael Prysby, 53, MDEQ District 8 Water Engineer (4 felonies, 2 misdemeanor);
  • Michael Glasgow, 40, City of Flint, Laboratory & Water Quality Supervisor (1 felony, 1 misdemeanor).

Flint Utility Administrator Glasgow‘s charges allege evidence tampering, suggesting that he altered water test results to reflect lower levels of lead in city drinking water. Meanwhile, MDEQ employees Busch and Prsyby likewise were charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence, in addition to violating tenets of the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act.

“These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come. That I can guarantee you”

— Bill Schuette, Michigan Attorney General

“I’ve stated this was the beginning of the road back… the road back to building trust of Flint families in their government,” said Schuette during a press conference. “These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come. That I can guarantee you… I’ve made it abundantly clear that the system of justice in Michigan applies to everybody. It’s not rigged.”

As reported by BuildWorlds last month, a task force assembled by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder filed a report placing particular blame for the crisis on (MDEQ), which had “primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint.”

Following Flint’s 2014 decision to draw drinking water from the Flint River rather than Detroit’s water system, as it had for years, MDEQ apparently misinterpreted federal guidelines. As a result, the agency failed to notify Flint officials to treat water from the new source with chemicals to prevent lead piping from corroding. Without those relatively inexpensive chemicals, lead soon leached into homes, schools and businesses. Upon discovering elevated levels of the toxic substance during subsequent tests, MDEQ then failed to take action.

“When confronted with evidence of its failures, MDEQ responded publicly through formal communications with a degree of intransigence and belligerence that has no place in government,” the report says.

Of course, the Flint crisis is just part of the unfolding, worrisome national story about aging water infrastructure. So, expect much more news from Michigan, and elsewhere, in the months to come.