Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) announced Wednesday one Department of Environmental Quality official, one former DEQ official and one Flint laboratory and water quality supervisor will be charged in connection with the ongoing Flint water crisis. The 13 felony and five misdemeanor charges were approved Wednesday morning by Genesee County District Court Judge Tracy Collier-Nix.
The two state DEQ officials, Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch, were charged with violating the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, in addition to being charged with criminal misconduct in office and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
The investigation into the crisis began in January with the goal of uncovering any criminal negligence in relation to the water crisis. The charges against the officials relate not only to the lead poisoning, but also to the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a bacterial pneumonia largely spread through water, which has been linked to the death of 12 people in the area, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Busch — who served as the DEQ District 8 water supervisor — faces three felony charges and two misdemeanor charges. Prysby —who was the DEQ District 8 water engineer — faces the same charges as Busch, as well as an additional felony charge, Schuette said.
“We have charged Mr. Prysby with an additional felony of misconduct in office by authorizing an operating permit to the Flint water treatment plant, knowing that plant would fail to provide clean and safe drinking water to the families of Flint,” Schuette said.
Schuette’s allegations against Prysby and Busch include an accusation that both men attempted to conceal the Flint water plant’s failure to follow the corrosion control protocol, and that the men tampered with water test data in the wake of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
Michael Glasgow — a Flint water quality supervisor — faces one felony and misdemeanor charge of evidence tampering and willful neglect of office. He has been accused of reporting artificially lowered lead levels in water test results.
Schuette announced these charges as part of the ongoing investigation into the water crisis conducted by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, Chief Investigator Andy Arena and Ellis Stafford, Deputy Chief Investigator. According to the Office of the Attorney General, each felony conviction against Busch, Prysby and Glasgow would carry sentences between four and five years in prison, and can result in fines ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
Rep. Daniel Kildee (D–Flint), announced his support for the charges in a press release, but called for the state to assume more responsibility for the crisis.
“Today’s criminal charges are one step to bringing justice to Flint families who are the victims of this terrible tragedy. But it would be incomplete if justice did not include those who did that to Flint — meaning the state government — and making it right for the people of Flint,” Kildee said in a statement.
“While I welcome individual responsibility and accountability coming in the form of people being fired, demoted and, in this case, prosecuted, I won’t be satisfied until we make it right to the people of Flint.”
Kildee’s sentiments were echoed by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D), who noted the importance of both short-term and long term solutions in a conference call with journalists Wednesday morning.
“Now that there are some criminal charges, it makes it imperative to step up and do what is best to help the people of Flint,” Peters said on Wednesday. “I’m concerned that when the attention turns away from Flint and the media cameras are turned a different direction, that Flint will not have the necessary attention to deal with a very long term problem.”
Gov. Rick Snyder (R) acknowledged the severity of Schuette's charges in a press conference Wednesday.
“With respect to the attorney general’s press conference and the charges being filed, let me say that these are deeply troubling and extremely serious,” Snyder said. “I’ve consistently said that a handful of bureaucrats created a terrible situation in Flint from the beginning. If these accusations are correct, this would take that situation to a whole new level.”
Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver (D), noted following Schuette’s press conference that Flint’s most significant priority remains replacing the city’s corroding water pipes so that city residents can safely use tap water.
“While this is a part of the healing process and while we want accountability — the thing that will really fix things here in Flint is the financial resources to get new pipes,” she said. “That’s what we deserve as a result of this.”