Former Officials Face Criminal Charges Over Flint Drinking Water Crisis
State attorney general makes accusations against two emergency managers and two former city officials
In a third round of criminal charges stemming from the Flint water crisis, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) has charged two former Michigan emergency managers and two former Flint officials.
At a Dec. 20 press conference, Schuette and other members of the Flint investigative team announced that the state was charging emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose and former Flint executives Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson with multiple felonies for their roles in the crisis.
In April, Schuette brought criminal charges against two Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality employees and one City of Flint employee. In July, Schuette filed 18 criminal charges against four current and two former employees from two state departments.
“Those who broke the law will be held accountable,” Schuette told reporters on Dec. 20. “The people of Flint are not expendable.”
In June, Schuette filed a civil lawsuit against engineering firms Veolia and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman for failing to flag the presence of lead in the drinking water. Both firms have said in public statements that they worked within the scope of their contracts.
The Dec. 20 charges were based on an alleged scheme to use false pretenses to obtain water bonds. City Manager Earley’s request for a loan was rejected in early 2014 because of the city’s poor credit rating. The individuals allegedly said the bonds were needed for an emergency cleanup of a lime-sludge lagoon. However, that project already was mostly completed, and the funds actually were used for the construction of the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, Schuette said.
Included in the agreement was language binding the city to use the Flint river as an interim water source and the Flint water treatment plant as the sanitizing and treatment center. The Flint river was well known to be polluted, and several city managers had deemed the water treatment plant unready for service, according to Schuette.
However, defendants Croft and Johnson allegedly pressured employees of Flint’s water treatment plant to get the plant in working order before the scheduled date for restart. After the deadline passed, Croft and Johnson allegedly ignored warnings and test results; further, they shut off the pipes pulling clean water from Detroit and, instead, opened valves to draw water from the Flint River.
“It was a classic bait-and-switch where the residents of Flint got the shaft,” said Todd Flood, the investigative team’s special counsel.
The individuals charged on Dec. 20 could not be reached for comment as of ENR press time.
Chief investigator Andy Arena said the investigation was ongoing and that there might be more criminal charges ahead for other individuals. “We will continue to investigate this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city is taking steps to move on from the crisis. In December, a team of researchers, led by Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, said testing done in November had shown that lead levels now are much lower in most Flint homes but that residents still should continue to use bottled or filtered water.
On Dec. 16, a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift the order requiring the state of Michigan to deliver bottled water to any Flint homes that do not have water filters on their faucets. The state has resisted the order, claiming that the deliveries are unnecessary because unfiltered city tap water now meets federal drinking-water standards.
Further, Flint is in the beginning stages of planning wholesale improvements to its infrastructure system. The city hired Arcadis to develop, by May 2017, a comprehensive, long-term strategy aimed at fully rehabilitating Flint’s aging water system, says Chris Hill, a vice president with the firm.
CDM Smith is aboard to develop recommendations for upgrades at the water treatment plant. CDM’s initial report was due on Dec. 20, according to city documents.