Flint — Flint Special Prosecutor Todd Flood on Monday accused four state environmental regulators of failing to protect Flint residents from being exposed to lead contamination by the water source switch in 2014.
In his opening remarks, Special Prosecutor Todd Flood laid out his strategy in 67th District Court against suspended Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water regulators Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby and Patrick Cook as well as Liane Shekter Smith, the fired former head of the DEQ division responsible for overseeing Flint’s water source switch.
The case is before Judge Jennifer Manley who will decide if the four go to trial.
The special prosecutor said the defendants were faced with a test: What’s more important in the water switch, “health or money?”
“All of these defendants, you’ll hear the testimony, have the ability to enforce a regulation and a rule to stop poisoning the people, and they failed in that duty, knowing that bad things could happen,” Flood told Manley in his opening remarks. “You will see that they did over act to manipulate documents as it relates to the lead and copper rule here in the city.”
Flood said Busch, a DEQ supervisor, foresaw the problems that would occur if the Flint Water Treatment plant were used to treat water coming from a different pipe, “and he forecasts those troubles.”
Flood said the defendants instructed a lab not to give lead results to the Genesee County health department.
The city of Flint solid its connecting 72-inch pipe in Genesee County so it could not switch back quickly to Detroit-area water, he said he would show.
Flood told the court he expected the hearings, which feature each defendant and their attorneys all in the same courtroom, to last up to nine days.
“I know it’s a lengthy case, judge, and there’s over 100 witnesses,” he continued.
Prysby attorney Frank Reynolds called Flood’s statements about his client “mischaracterizations.” Other defendant lawyers also have indicated they feel their clients are innocent.
The first person to testify was William Elgar Brown, a retired DEQ engineer and manager who discussed his relationships with each defendant and the water quality of the Flint River.
Some defense attorneys sparred with Flood over Brown’s expertise since he left the DEQ in 2010 and worked as a consultant for a construction company advising the Karegnondi Water Authority, which eventually was supposed to supply treated water to Flint after the interim source. Insults were traded between Flood and some of the lawyers.
Shekter Smith and Busch each had a charge of involuntary manslaughter added in June 2017. Attorney General Bill Schuette accused them and others of failing to alert the public about a 2014-15 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that killed 12 people and sickened another 79 individuals.
Shekter Smith also faces charges of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty for allegedly ignoring mounting problems with river water between April 2014 and October 2015.
Busch and Prysby are charged with “willfully and knowingly misleading” regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Genesee County Health Department about the treatment of Flint’s river water. The drinking water became contaminated with lead after it wasn’t treated with corrosion-control chemicals, according to a gubernatorial task force.
Cook, a water treatment engineer, is accused of misconduct in office, conspiracy to engage in misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty for allegedly manipulating a Lead and Copper Rule report on the levels of lead in Flint’s water.
DEQ emails released by Snyder’s office have shown that Cook dismissed concerns raised in April 2015 by EPA lead expert Miguel Del Toral about Flint’s lack of corrosion control chemicals and proposed silencing Del Toral, who has since been hailed as a whistle blower.
Flood said Glasgow, among others, will testify as DEQ officials in 2013 were being prepared to use the Flint Water Treatment plant in anticpation of a 2014 switch to the Flint River, he said the switch would run “over my objection” and that “there’s crickets” because no DEQ official responded.
Lee-Anne Walters is expected to be the next witness in the Flint hearing. Walters, the Flint mother who took her complaints about Flint’s water sickening her four children to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in April 2016 the criminal charges are “a step in the right direction in getting justice.”
Walters is listed in court documents as the victim of the alleged crimes of Busch, Prysby and Flint water utilities administrator Michael Glasgow. Glasgow pleaded guilty in May to a reduced charge of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor. Sentencing for Glasgow was set aside as long as he cooperates with the ongoing investigation by Schuette.