Multiple felonies filed against 6 state employees in Flint water case
FLINT, Mich. (WJBK) - Attorney General Bill Schuette and the team investigating the Flint Water Crisis will announce more charges on Friday relating to the ongoing water crisis. Six more state employees will be charged related to the case.
Schuette will be holding a press conference to formally announce the charges. The conference is set for 11:30 a.m. from Harding-Mott University Center at the University of Michigan-Flint. Schuette will be joined by Special Counsel Todd Flood and the Flint Water Investigative Team.
You can watch a livestream of Schuette's news conference here
"Some may wish and some may worry that the story of Flint will be slowly absorbed by world events, the 24-hour news cycle, and the short attention span of tweets and posts. Nope, not on our watch," Schuette said, shaking his finger. "That will not happen."
During the press conference, Schuette announced Liane Shekter-Smith, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook from the MDEQ were all being charged.
Shekter-Smith is being charged with misconduct in office (felony) and willful neglect of duty (misdemeanor). Rosenthal is also being charged being charged with a felony count of misconduct in office and neglect of duty but also additional felony charges of tampering with evidence and conspiracy. Cook has been charged with neglect of duty and felony charges of misconduct and conspiracy.
The charges filed against Shekter-Smith claim that the former high-ranking MDEQ official failed to take corrective action or notify public health officials about reported problems with the water. Schuette also claims that she lied and deliberatly mislead her superiors.
Rosenthal is accused of willfully participating 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. He's also accused of altering a July 28, 2015 report to exclude some high lead tests.
Cook signed the permit in 2014 that was the last permit necessary for the use of the Flint Water Treatment Plant. The charges claim that he was aware of the problems with the water but took no corrective action to ensure clean, safe drinking water. Cook is also accused of misleading 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 inquiry.
From the MDHHS Nancy Peeler, Robert Scott, and Corinne Miller were all charged. The MDHHS employees are all charged with felony charges of misconduct in office and conspiracy. They're also all charged with neglect of duty.
The charges claim Peeler received a report that on July 28, 2015 that showed a significant spike in blood lead tests in Flint children for the summer of 2014. The charges claim that report was buried and never forwarded to the appropriate officials.
The charges claim Peeler then worked with Scott and created a second report that falsely indicated no statistically significant rise in blood lead levels of children in the summer of 2014.
Miller is accused of receiving the initial report but not taking any action and rebuffing employees who asked about the next steps. She then directed another MDHHS employee to delete emails concerning the original blood lead data from the first report.
The investigation claims that on the day that the July 28, 2015 report was created, Shekter-Smith from MDEQ told MDHHS there were no lead issues with Flint's drinking water.
Schuette announced the charges later Friday at a news conference in Flint, a poor, majority-black city of 100,000 that for 18 months used the Flint River for tap water as a way to save money while a new pipeline was under construction. The decision was made by a state-appointed emergency manager. The water, which wasn't treated to control corrosion, leached lead from aging pipes and fixtures as it flowed into homes and businesses in the city about 55 miles north of Detroit. Elevated levels of the toxin were discovered in children.
Shekter Smith, former head of the state's drinking water office, appeared last month in a Detroit courtroom so her lawyer could assert her constitutional right against self-incrimination amid ongoing investigations. She hadn't yet been charged but was reassigned after the water crisis came to light and her firing was announced in February. At the time, her lawyer said she hadn't done anything wrong.
All are charged with misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and various conspiracy counts.
"I've been involved in thousands of cases. There isn't a case that has jarred my soul more than this, for a lack of caring, the lack of compassion, the lack of understanding that has affected these citizens here in Flint. Every time you turn the page, you say to yourself, you can't make this up," Special Counsel Todd Flood said. "People here in the city of Flint, the citizens, will not -- will not -- go without justice on our watch."
This is the second round of criminal charges filed in relation to the Flint water crisis. In April, two state employees and one city worker were charged with evidence tampering and other felonies and misdemeanors.
In June, Schuette announced charges against two companies in connection to the Flint water crisis Wednesday morning, saying they caused or worsened Flint's lead-tainted water.
The public health emergency was preceded by E. coli detections; resident complaints about color, odor and taste; and high levels of a disinfectant byproduct. A General Motors plant had stopped using the water just six months after the 2014 switch because it was rusting engine parts, and experts suspect a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak was tied to the water.
Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for regulatory failures, and the state environmental agency has said it wasn't required to add an anti-corrosion chemical until after a year of testing.
In March, a state task force that investigated the Flint crisis concluded that it was a "case of environmental injustice." The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is holding public hearings on the matter.
Federal experts now say filtered tap water is safe for everyone to drink in Flint, although some doctors still are recommending bottled water for pregnant women and children ages 5 and younger.
The Associated Press contributed to this report