01:37 - Source: CNN
Officials charged in Flint water crisis
CNN  — 

They are the first to face criminal charges in a public health calamity that has gripped the nation.

Will there be others?

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said charges Wednesday against two state officials and a Flint city administrator were “only the beginning.”

“Nobody’s ruled out,” he said.

From the start of Flint’s water woes, residents have insisted that culpability extended to the state capitol – namely Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.

These are the first targets in a widening criminal investigation of a crisis that began to unfold in spring 2014 when the city opted to switch to the Flint River as a temporary water source:

Mike Glasgow

Mike Glasgow, utilities administrator, city of Flint

Glasgow is a former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city’s utilities administrator.

He’s charged with tampering with evidence, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. The tampering charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. He did not appear in court on Wednesday.

How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan

Glasgow allegedly tampered with a 2015 report, “Lead and Copper Report and Consumer Notice of Lead Result,” and failed to perform his duties as a treatment plant operator, according to Schuette’s office.

It came to light earlier this year that Michigan officials might have altered sample data to lower water lead-level reports for Flint, according to official documents and emails released by researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University through a Freedom of Information Act request and viewed by CNN.

Documents and emails showed discrepancies between two reports detailing the toxicity of lead samples collected by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint from January to June 2015, according to Virginia Tech University professor Marc Edwards. He was the lead researcher for the Flint Water Study, a research group that has conducted numerous tests on the water system and was the first to publicly identify high levels of lead in the water.

Pressed for time? The Flint water crisis in 2 minutes

Edwards said the state environmental quality department and the city of Flint collected 71 lead level samples from homes when they were required to collect 100. The final report from the department, however, only accounted for 69 of those 71 samples.

Edwards told CNN the two discarded samples were “high-lead” and would have lifted the “action level” above 15 parts per billion.

The public must be alerted and additional steps taken if lead concentrations exceed 15 parts per billion in drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Edwards told CNN the samples should have come from homes with lead pipes. State reports said they did, but Glasgow – then-assistant supervisor of the Flint water plant – said that’s not the case. Glasgow told CNN in March the records were not complete, and the sampling teams did not know which homes had lead pipes.

Flint water crisis: Families bear scars from ‘manmade disaster’

It was Glasgow, he will tell you, who first talked to Lee Anne Walters, the Flint mother with astronomically high levels of lead in her water – more than twice the level of toxic waste, according to the Virginia Tech results.

It was Glasgow who left Walters a panicked voice message the night her results came back, warning her, in her words, “Please don’t drink your water. Please don’t let your kids drink the water. Don’t mix their juice with the water,” he told CNN. She confirmed the content of the message.

Charges against 3 in Flint water crisis ‘only the beginning’

But Glasgow also removed Walters’ home and one other residence from the state’s testing results sheet, making it appear that Flint was within acceptable levels when it was not, he said. He said he was simply following orders.

Walters defended Glasgow on Wednesday.

“I made it really clear Mike Glasgow was the only person who was helping us from the city,” she said. “I really kind of feel like Glasgow was stuck between a rock and a hard place … (W)ho was he supposed to go to? Who is he supposed to talk to?”

Special counsel Todd Flood, who was appointed by the state attorney general to investigate the Flint crisis, said he doesn’t believe Glasgow.

“That defense didn’t work in several places when you’re ordered to do something, right?” he said. “Nuremberg and the like.”

A lead-level report was made public in the summer of 2015, at a time when state and federal officials were becoming increasingly concerned by reports of contaminated water, according to emails.

5 months later in Flint, high lead levels remain

A June 2015 leaked internal memo from the Environmental Protection Agency raised the issue, saying high lead results were a “serious concern.”

Glasgow became a major part of the investigation into what happened in Flint.

He was among the first to talk to the FBI. He talked to Congress, to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and testified before the state’s joint information committee.

“I was a key figure in this,” he told CNN in March. “I am operating the treatment plant and seeing some of the sampling. But I was born and raised here in Flint. I would never do nothing to hurt this city or its citizens. And that’s why I remained here to try to help clean up this issue. … In hindsight, you replay this in your mind as time goes on … I should’ve questioned some of the direction we were receiving.”

For instance, Glasgow said he wondered why corrosion controls weren’t used in the first place.

The federal lead and copper rule requires such controls, and Glasgow said that as they prepped for the water switch, he asked about the use of phosphates, the EPA-required chemical used to treat water.

“I was told (by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) that we would not need to monitor phosphate out in the system because it was not going to be required of us,” he told CNN in March.

Glasgow said in an interview that Michael Prysby, the district engineer for the Office of Drinking Water at the MDEQ, and Stephen Busch, the district supervisor for the Office of Drinking Water at the MDEQ, told him in a meeting that they would instead do two rounds of six-month lead and copper testing to see whether corrosion control was needed.

Prysby and Busch are also facing criminal charges.

By the first round of six-month tests for lead and copper, Glasgow suspected something was amiss.

8 responses to Michigan governor drinking Flint water

“The tests were slowly revealing that there was an issue with corrosion in the system. Lead levels were rising,” he said in the interview.

Glasgow told CNN that after he realized that not having corrosion control wasn’t working, state officials told him “they wanted to wait and see the second six-month round of sampling.”

Glasgow said the two state officials facing charges told him to alter water quality reports and remove the highest lead levels.

An email sent April 17, 2014 – eight days before Flint switched its water source – seems to indicate that Glasgow had problems with the monitoring schedule and his staffing ahead of the switch.

“I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon. If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will be against my direction,” Glasgow wrote to state officials, including Prysby and Busch.

“I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”

Until Wednesday, Glasgow was still an integral part of the Flint administration. He was in charge of Flint’s utilities, and one of the few who is not a newcomer.

In a statement, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Glasgow has been placed on administrative leave “until we learn more about this legal matter, keeping in mind that every person is considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Glasgow’s attorney, Robert Harrison, said Wednesday his client “strongly opposed” the city’s switch to the Flint River for drinking water, and that the criminal charges are “difficult to understand, given what Mike did in this case.”

“Mike voluntarily met with and spoke with numerous investigators … on several different occasions,” he said. “These meetings all occurred over many days and many hours each time they met. At no time did Mike ask for an attorney to accompany him.”

He described Glasgow as “an honest, decent person who has faithfully worked for the city of Flint and its residents” for years.

Stephen Busch, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality district water supervisor

Stephen Busch, right.

Busch is charged with two counts of misconduct in office, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence – all felonies – and two misdemeanor violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, one involving treatment, the other involving monitoring.

He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday, and was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond for each count.

His lawyer told the court Busch is “a lifelong resident of the state of Michigan, he graduated from the University of Michigan, he’s married with two children, he voluntarily surrendered himself today, and his parents live in Kalamazoo.”

The attorney general’s office alleges Busch misled county, state and federal officials; conspired to manipulate monitoring reports; tampered with the 2015 report named in the charges against Glasgow; failed to use corrosion control treatment and/or refused to mandate the treatment once dangerous lead levels were detected and manipulated; and he manipulated water samples by telling residents to “pre-flush” their taps the night before their samples were drawn and/or failed to collect required samples and/or removed results from samples slated to be included in the 2015 report.

The maximum penalties allowed for the charges are five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the misconduct count, four years and $10,000 for the conspiracy count, four years and $5,000 for the tampering count, and one year each for the Safe Drinking Water Act violations. The latter also carry $5,000 fines for each day the accused are found to be in violation of the act.

Schuette said that there are roughly 2.5 million documents in the case, and an attorney for Busch requested extra time to prepare for the probable cause hearing, which the judge set for May 4 for both men. A preliminary hearing will be scheduled at the probable cause hearing.

Busch is on unpaid leave.

Mike Prysby, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality district water engineer

Mike Prysby

Prysby faces the same allegations and charges as Busch. One of the misconduct counts states he authorized a permit to the Flint Water Treatment Plant knowing it “was deficient in its ability to provide clean and safe drinking water for the citizens.”

That charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The maximum penalties allowed for the other charges against Prysby are five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the misconduct count, four years and $10,000 for the conspiracy count, four years and $5,000 for the tampering count, and one year each for the Safe Drinking Water Act violations. The latter also carry $5,000 fines for each day the accused were found to be in violation of the act.

Prysby pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was released on a personal recognizance bond of $10,000 for each count against him.

For many aggrieved residents, the charges against him, Busch and Glasgow did not go far enough.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder faces scrutiny

Many residents believe the criminality in this case extends to the top of state government.

Laura McIntyre said it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if Snyder, the governor, isn’t charged.

She worries that Wednesday’s announcement of charges represented “just two to three people who will take the fall for actions that have included many, many more people. It definitely goes much higher.”

“This is exactly what we were afraid of,” McIntyre said. “That it would fall down to a couple of individuals.”

The crisis and the state’s response has been “discouraging and disheartening” to the people of Flint, she added.

Flint resident Nakiya Wakes said holding three people accountable “is a start, but only a start.”

“I won’t rest until the governor is charged,” she said.

“It was his person who pushed the change of water supply through and he knew there were problems but did nothing. We are still suffering here. And his higher-ups in this mess need to be held responsible, too.”

Filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore tweeted Wednesday: “Arrests began today of the criminals who poisoned Flint. But the Repub Att’y Gen is trying to pin it on low-level bureaucrats #ArrestSnyder”.

Last month, a task force commissioned by Snyder to study the crisis said the government failed Flint at every level.

The report said nearly every agency tasked with protecting the public acted with “intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction.”

Among the groups singled out in the report: the governor, his office and his various state agencies, the county health department, the city government and even the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In a statement, Snyder said he has supported the criminal investigation and promised the state would pursue evidence of wrongdoing and hold those responsible accountable.

“The people of Flint and across Michigan are owed straight answers about how the Flint water crisis happened,” the statement said.

Asked later at a news conference whether he did anything criminal, Snyder replied, “I don’t really want to get into that kind of speculation. I don’t believe so.”

In January, Snyder apologized for the crisis during his State of the State speech.

“You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me. Most of all, you deserve to know the truth,” the governor said then.

Earlier this month, the top Democrat on a congressional panel looking into the Flint crisis accused Snyder of contradictory testimony under oath and “perpetuating the same type of heavy-handed, deficient governance that caused this disaster in the first place.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said in a letter that the governor’s March 17 testimony claiming to work “with local leaders rather than marginalizing them” in response to the crisis appeared to “directly contradict” his actions.

On Wednesday, Schuette promised that no one would escape justice, no matter “how big a shot you are.”

“No one is above the law,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

Darnell Earley, Flint’s former emergency manager, also under fire

Darnell Earley

From 2013 to 2015, Earley was the emergency manager for Flint.

In the city of nearly 100,000 some 70 miles northwest of Detroit, Earley became a lightning rod for residents who feared health problems because of lead-laden tap water.

Under his tenure, in 2014, the city’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a decision reversed more than a year later amid reports of corroded pipes and elevated blood lead levels.

Shortly after the switch, the water began looking, smelling and tasting funny, dirty even. It turned out the river water was highly corrosive – 19 times more corrosive than the water in Lake Huron, Virginia Tech researchers discovered.

Earley has said in a statement that he was not responsible for the switch, only for implementing it. He’d moved on to a different job by the time conclusive test results were released, and then found himself at the center of twin crises that put a spotlight on Snyder’s administration.

In February, Earley sent the governor a letter announcing his resignation from his role as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, saying he was stepping down after working diligently “to eliminate the district’s structural budget deficit.”

Detroit’s 46,000-student school system has suffered from teacher sickouts over decrepit facilities, overcrowding, insufficient maintenance and other issues.

The day of his resignation, officials in Washington sent Earley a subpoena to testify before the House Oversight Committee looking into the water crisis. He initially did not accept the subpoena, but testified at a later date.

Flint resident Aaron Stinson said he suffers from various aches and pains and he flatly blames the drinking water and those who allowed that water to arrive in his home.

Referring to Snyder and Earley, he said: “Look, in any organization, decisions start from the top. It’s all good and well to get the folks in the middle, but we all know this started at the top and those top officials should also be charged for their role.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Flint former emergency manager Darnell Earley asserted his 5th Amendment right in declining a congressional subpoena to testify before the House Oversight Committee.

CNN’s Sarah Jorgensen and Mallory Simon contributed to this report.