Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced criminal charges against six more people — including the state’s former water quality chief — in connection with lead-contaminated water in the city of Flint.
All six people are current or former state employees in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
A total of nine people are facing charges, accused of causing or covering up the crisis. The state has also filed a civil suit against two companies that allegedly knew about the poisoned water and failed to act.
A full timeline of the Flint water crisis is here.
At a press conference today announcing the latest charges, Schuette said: “Many things went tragically wrong in Flint. Some people failed to act, others minimized harm done and arrogantly chose to ignore data, some intentionally altered figures and covered up significant health risks.”
Schuette said the exact crimes varied but that they shared a common pattern and theme:
“Each of these individuals attempted to bury or cover up, to downplay or to hide information that contradicted their own narrative, their story. And their story was there’s nothing wrong with Flint water, and it was perfectly safe to use.
“In essence, these individuals concealed the truth. They were criminally wrong to do so, and the victims are real people. [They are] families who have been lied to by government officials, and treated as if they don’t count. Well, they do count.”
The three people charged from the Department of Health and Human Services are the director of the child health unit, Nancy Peeler; her subordinate, Robert Scott; and a state epidemiologist, Corinne Miller. All three are charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy and willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to release a report that showed unsafe lead levels in the blood of Flint children.
“This put the children of Flint in the crosshairs of drinking poison,” Schuette said. Miller has since left the department. Peeler and Scott are still employed there.
The other three people charged today are Liane Shekter-Smith, who was in charge of the drinking water and municipal assistance office at the state Department of Environmental Quality, and two MDEQ subordinates, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook.
Shekter-Smith faces the same charges as officials from the DHHS for allegedly misleading health officials by saying Flint’s water treatment plant was in compliance with lead and copper rules for drinking water when it was not. She was fired from her position in February, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Cook and Rosenthal allegedly failed to ensure proper water testing, and Rosenthal allegedly went so far as to instruct those conducting water tests that he needed test results that did not show high levels of lead. Both are charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy, and willful neglect of duty. Rosenthal also faces a felony charge of tampering with evidence.
Both Rosenthal and Cook currently work in the drinking water unit of the Department of Environmental Quality.
An independent investigation of the Flint water crisis concluded in March that officials within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are mostly to blame, although other officials share some responsibility, and called the prolonged poisoning of the Flint water supply “a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice.”
As The Two Way reported in April, the three people previously charged include Flint’s water quality supervisor and two state officials at the Department of Environmental Quality. Michael Glasgow, the former water quality supervisor, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge under a plea deal — a felony charge was dismissed — and agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, according to the Detroit Free Press. The other two officials still face multiple felony charges.
Schuette said today that his office has interviewed more than 200 people for the investigation. But he said, “We’re not done. We’re a long way from done. We’re way far from done. We continue to work every day to find the truth for Flint.”