Schuette investigation into Flint to go back to 2006

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office’s independent investigation into the Flint water crisis will date back to at least 2006, include a team of more than 10 investigators and — he hopes — restore the public trust for the people of Flint.

“Families feel completely betrayed about what happen. The situation is incredibly tragic. Many things went terribly wrong,” Schuette told the editorial board and staff at The Detroit News on Thursday. “This is a step to the road back to regain trust.”

Schuette has brought on two high-profile hired guns to help investigate Flint’s water crisis and create a firewall as his office also defends the state in lawsuits brought by Flint residents. The team said it wanted to evaluate the case as far back as 2006 to cast a wide net as to how the crisis began.

Retired Detroit FBI Chief Andrew Arena will help investigate and former Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Todd Flood will serve as special counsel for the Flint probe.

The appointments will help create an “iron-clad conflict wall” between the investigation and civil lawsuits, according to the Republican attorney general, whose announcement was met by pushback from Democrats, who continue to question Schuette’s ability to represent the people of Flint with impartiality.

Schuette said his office has conducted similar parallel investigations, including in the case involving the Public Service Commission and rate hikes.

The attorney general’s office also created a similar firewall in Detroit’s 2014 bankruptcy case, tapping Chief Legal Counsel Matthew Schneider as lead counsel for the state while Schuette interjected on behalf of pensioners.

Arena, who attended the meeting at The News, said his goal is to determine the facts and whether any criminal or civil laws have been broken. That means asking for reports, email messages, texts and other communication between departments and employees involved in the water crisis.

“It’s not going to be quick. But we are going to do this as quickly as we can for Flint residents,” Arena said.

Arena said he is compiling a team of investigators including computer forensic specialists to look at all aspects of the case.

“It’s a cardinal sin to say ‘I know what happened.’ We are coming in with our eyes wide open. I am not a politician,” Arena said. “This is about public trust. People don’t trust the government.

“I’m not asking the people of Flint to trust us. ... I’m asking them to give us a chance.”

Schuette launched the investigation Jan. 15, vowing to determine whether any state laws had been broken in the beleaguered city, where residents continue to rely on bottled and filtered water after the discovery of elevated lead levels in the tap water and the blood of some children.