Three People Hit With Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis

Two state officials and a city employee are the first to be charged in connection with the Flint water crisis

Flint River
Flint River, Flint, Michigan. Corbis

Michigan’s Attorney General has filed the first criminal charges connected to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Two state officials and a city employee are being accused of playing a central role in not only allowing the city’s supply of drinking water to be contaminated with lead for over a year but also covering it up.

Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch, who both work for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Michael Glasgow, Flint’s utilities manager, face a mix of charges that includes tampering with evidence and violating the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act, Monica Davey and Richard Peréz-Peña report for the New York Times. The three men are facing a mix of felonies and misdemeanors, with 13 charges in total.

"They failed Michigan families. Indeed, they failed us all. I don't care where you live," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.

The Flint water crisis began in April 2014, when city officials in Flint switched the source of the impoverished city’s drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a money-saving measure. However, due to pollution in the river its waters are much more corrosive, causing lead from old pipes to seep into and contaminate the drinking water, Loren Grush reports for The Verge.

Despite complaints of foul-smelling, discolored water, outbreaks of Legionnaires disease, and doubled rates of lead poisoning, officials refused to acknowledge issues with the water supply until last fall.

An investigation into the roots of the crisis by Schuette’s office uncovered documents that allegedly indicate that Glasgow tampered with water quality reports. In an interview last mont, Glasgow said that he did so at Prysby and Busch’s request, Eliott McLaughlin reports for CNN. The two state officials are also accused of tampering with evidence to cover the lead problems. If the three men are found guilty of all charges, they could face maximum punishments of thousands of dollars in fines and multiple years in prison.

Schuette has pledged to continue investigating the crisis, stating that these charges "are only the beginning," McLaughlin reports. However, many Flint residents whose outcries were ignored for more than a year say the charges aren’t harsh enough.

"I won't rest until the governor is charged. It was his person who pushed the change of water supply through and he knew there were problems but did nothing," Flint resident Nakiya Wakes tells McLaughlin. "We are still suffering here. And his higher-ups in this mess need to be held responsible, too."

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been accused of being too slow to react to the crisis, but  has since defended his response, McLaughlin reports. Earlier this week, Snyder pledged to spend the next month only drinking water from Flint in an attempt to prove to the city’s residents that the water, which is once again flowing from Lake Huron, is once again safe to drink. Still, skepticism remains among many of the victims of the toxic water.

"We're still drinking bottled water, using the filters to wash our hands, hoping that we're not being poisoned by the shower," Flint resident Laura McIntyre tells McLaughlin. "It's just been so discouraging and disheartening."

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.