FLINT, Michigan –Three Michigan state and local officials were criminally charged on Wednesday in an investigation into dangerous lead levels in the city of Flint’s drinking water, and the state attorney general said there would be more charges to come.
Genesee District Judge Tracy Collier-Nix authorized charges against Flint employee Michael Glasgow and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told a news conference to announce the charges that it was “only the beginning and there will be more to come.” He said the three defendants were cooperating with investigators.
Schuette added nothing was off the table when asked if Michigan Governor Rick Snyder could face charges. Snyder has been criticized for the administration’s handling of the crisis, and he has apologized but said he would not resign.
The Republican governor told a news conference in the capital, Lansing, later on Wednesday that he did not believe he had done anything criminally wrong in relation to the water crisis.
Flint, which has about 100,000 people, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its source of water from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.
The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system’s and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes. Lead can be toxic and children are especially vulnerable. The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents who say their children are showing dangerously high blood levels of lead.
Glasgow, 40, was charged with tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty, according to court documents.
Busch, 40, and Prysby, 53, were charged with five and six counts, respectively, including misconduct in office, tampering with evidence and violation of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, the court documents said.
Busch, a district manager in the drinking water division, had already been suspended. Dena Altheide, a court administrator, initially said Busch faced six counts.
The three people charged could not immediately be reached for comment. If convicted, Glasgow faces up to five years in prison and $6,000 in fines, while Busch faces up to 15 years and $35,000 in fines, and Prysby faces up to 20 years and $45,000 in fines, according to court documents.
Glasgow on Wednesday was placed on unpaid leave, city of Flint spokeswoman Kristin Moore said. The MDEQ officials charged were also suspended without pay as of Wednesday, Melanie Brown, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email.
Altheide said court dates and arraignments had not been set.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said holding people responsible was a good first step but that the city still needed the resources to fix the issue, including swapping out all the old lead pipes.
But Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor, said what happened in Flint was wrong, but whether it was criminal was a very different question.
“You have to now prove exactly what they did that violated the law. That’s just not easy,” Henning said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit and the FBI are independently investigating the crisis, looking for any violations of federal law, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In January, the attorney general named a special prosecutor to lead the investigation into whether criminal charges should be filed in the water crisis.
In February, former Wayne County prosecutor Todd Flood, who has led the probe, said his team would look at what possible crimes were committed in the crisis.
“The criminal charges against MDEQ officials are one step towards justice for the families of Flint who were poisoned as a result of the actions of Governor Snyder’s administration,” U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, said in a statement.
Cummings and other House Democrats have called for Snyder to step down.
Ari Adler, a spokesman for Snyder, said the governor had supported the probe “because the people of Flint and across Michigan are owed straight answers about how the Flint water crisis happened.” The governor has said the state would pursue evidence of wrongdoing and hold people accountable.
Also on Wednesday, Democrats in the U.S. Senate introduced a legislative package to invest more than $70 billion over the next 10 years through loans, grants and tax credits in the country’s crumbling water infrastructure and lead relief programs.
SERENA MARIA DANIELS