Health

Officials Charged With Felonies In Flint Water Investigation

| by Nik Bonopartis

Michigan's attorney general unveiled new charges in the ongoing Flint water investigation, bringing the total number of public employees charged in the investigation to 13.

Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, who are both former emergency managers with the City of Flint, were hit with felony charges, making them the highest-ranking officials yet to be caught up in the ongoing investigation, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also filed charges against Howard Croft, the city's former public works superintendent, and Daugherty Johnson, Flint's utilities administrator.

Three of the suspects, except for Early, pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned in state court on Dec. 20.

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But Schuette says his investigation indicates the men were more interested in the appearance of doing the right thing than making sure people in the city weren't exposed to harmful agents in their drinking water.

"All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint," Schuette wrote a statement, according to Mother Jones.

In particular, the defendants are accused of going ahead with a plan to switch the city's drinking water supply despite knowing that existing water treatment facilities weren't prepared to deliver clean and safe drinking water to the city.

The problem dates back to April of 2014, when Flint officials stopped using water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which delivered treated water sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. Instead, the city chose to source its water from the nearby Flint River in an effort to save money.

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But the water from the Flint River wasn't treated properly, according to authorities, and when the water made its way through the city's outdated pipe systems, lead from the aging pipes was dislodged and made its way into the water supply.

"So many people knew that that plant was not ready — and yet it was done," said investigator Andrew Arena, a former FBI agent now working with Schuette's investigation. "That's the thing that shocked me."

Residents in Flint began to complain about the new water, telling city officials that it was coming out discolored and tasted strange. But city and state officials denied there was a problem for months.

It was clear that authorities knew the water wasn't safe -- according to a January 2016 report by the Free Press, while state officials were assuring the public that Flint's water was safe to drink, they were having cooler of purified water delivered to state offices in Flint so that they would not have to drink from the taps.

“While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building," Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, told the Free Press at the time.

Scott was referring to a now-infamous statement by former Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Brad Wurfel, who had appeared on Michigan Public Radio in July of 2015 to wave aside concerns over Flint's water.

"Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax," Wurfel said at the time.

The investigation is ongoing, with some observers saying it could reach further into the highest reaches of state government, with close allies of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder implicated in covering up or minimizing the water quality problems. In September, congressional Democrats and Republicans voted together on a bipartisan bill to provide $170 million in federal money to help Flint fix its damaged water system, The Washington Post reported.

Sources: Mother Jones, Detroit Free Press (2) (3), The Washington Post / Photo credit: White House via Wikimedia Commons

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