Attorney General announces new charges against state employees involved in Flint water crisis

Friday, July 29, 2016 - 4:17pm

At a Friday press conference in Flint, Attorney General Bill Schuette filed 18 criminal charges against six current and former government employees connected with the Flint water crisis.

Schuette charged the high officials from the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services for contributing to the crisis by deliberately holding back information from the public about lead poisoning and allowing the continued distribution of lead-filled water from the Flint water treatment plant. The respective departments jointly announced they will suspend the four current employees without pay until further review of the charges are completed.

Friday’s charges mark the third round of litigation against former state and local officials involved with the crisis, which caused serious health issues in children and was declared a federal state of emergency January 5.

In a news conference, Schuette stated that he will not let the crisis in Flint be forgotten and that its perpetrators will not escape justice.

“Some may wish, some may worry that the story of Flint will be slowly absorbed by world events, the 24-hour news cycle and short attention span of Tweets and posts,” Schuette said. “Nope, not on our watch. That will not happen.”

When asked whether those charged were in custody, Schuette told reporters the attorneys representing the accused had been notified in advance of the press conference and arrangements would be made for them to come into custody.

In response to a question as to whether the investigation is moving up the ranks and no longer investigating lower city-level officials anymore, chief investigator Andy Arena said no one is off the hook yet.

“I don’t think anybody’s off the table,” Arena said. “We’re working with (Genesee County Prosecutor) Dave Leyton’s office and attacking these different areas, different departments logically, so, as the Attorney General said, nobody’s off the table, nobody’s off limits.”

Charged from the MDEQ are Liane Shekter-Smith, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook for failing to ensure water quality in Flint as well as colluding to ensure that the Flint water treatment plant was in operation despite warning signs of lead pollution.

Shekter-Smith was the former chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance in Flint. Charges allege Shekter-Smith not only dismissed complaints of water quality and knowledge of a Legionnaires’ outbreak, but he also deceived and hid evidence from health officials.

Rosenthal is a water quality analyst who worked in Shekter-Smith’s department. Charges allege Rosenthal manipulated lead testing results and falsely reported that the 90th percentile of the results for lead water testing was below the federal action level in 2015. He later modified a July 28, 2015 report to exclude some high lead tests.

Cook is the specialist for Community Drinking Water Unit and is in charge of lead and copper monitoring. In 2014, he signed a permit that approved the use of the Flint water treatment plant but did not take corrective action when he became aware of the problems the facility encountered. He also misled the EPA into believing corrosion control in Flint was unnecessary when he forwarded false information in a response to an EPA inquiry.

Charged from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are Nancy Peeler, Robert Scott and Corinne Miller for suppressing information about poisoned children from reaching doctors and health officials.

Peeler, the director of the Program for Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting, allegedly failed to distribute to appropriate health officials a July 28, 2015 report showing a significant spike in blood lead levels of Flint children for the summer of 2014.

Peeler suppressed the report and colluded with Scott, the data manager for the Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program, to doctor the report so it showed no statistically significant rise in blood levels.

Miller, the former director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist, received the initial July 28 report but instructed others to not take action, even instructing another MDHHS employee to delete e-mails concerning the report.

The charge also alleges that Shekter-Smith told the MDHHS on July 28 that drinking water in Flint had no issues even though she was well aware of the truth.