Plea reached for Flint worker charged in water crisis

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Flint — If all goes as planned, the first plea deal to rise out of the Flint water crisis will allow a criminally charged suspect to have a clean record after one year.

The deal struck between Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office was announced Wednesday in court when Glasgow offered a no contest plea to a judge for his role in the ongoing and widespread water contamination case.

Glasgow, 40, of Otisville pleaded to a charge of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor for failing to perform his duties as a licensed municipal water treatment operator.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood agreed to drop a felony charge of tampering with evidence after Glasgow was willing to plea and to cooperate with state and federal investigators into water contamination in the city’s system.

Michael Glasgow waits inside a courtroom of 67th District Court in Flint on Wednesday.

Flood said if Glasgow does not fulfill all the conditions of his plea agreement, he will reinstate all charges against him.

67th District Court Judge Jennifer Manley took the plea under advisement, saying said she wouldn't accept it on Wednesday but acknowledged its factual basis. She delayed her decision on the plea and scheduled the next court date for Aug. 3.

Glasgow, who has been suspended from his job, left court without comment, but his attorney, Robert Harrison, said he was pleased with the deal.

“What this is really all about is Mike Glasgow’s desire to continue to cooperate with the investigators into the Flint water crisis,” Harrison said.

Harrison said after one year, the willful neglect charge against Glasgow will be dropped if he cooperates in the investigation.

Flood, a special prosecutor for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, said Glasgow knew there was poison in the water, that treatment was required and his co-defendants, Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch, directed him to manipulate reports, and he did so.

But Glasgow testified under oath to Flood in a previous deposition that he altered the reports to get his bosses and those at the state to ask questions about what was happening in Flint.

Flood said those equities deserved consideration during the state’s investigation.

“He tried to get assistance and get questions answered,” Flood said. “He was the one that was attempting to give notice to the world that we have the Titanic and people are telling us to have the violins keep playing.”

Flood said Glasgow’s participation in the investigation is moving it forward.

“This is a very interesting situation. Normally, I wouldn’t, but his equities are in that corner. Now in my position today, this makes common sense,” Flood said.

Peter Henning, a Wayne State professor of law and a former federal prosecutor, said the plea deal gets a cooperating witness who may be able to supply testimony about the intent of others involved in the decisions in Flint, including Prysby and Busch.

“That type of evidence is crucial in a case like that, that revolves around proving the intent to hide information and not acting in the face of known dangers,” Henning said.

To make a deal, the prosecutor has to give up something, and in this case, it’s the more serious charge of tampering with evidence, Henning said.

“Glasgow appeared to be the least culpable of the three defendants, so getting him out of the case lets the prosecutors focus on those with greater responsibility,” Henning said. “There is no real punishment being imposed, which will not sit well with the public, which is out for blood.”

Meanwhile, hearings for Michigan Department of Environmental municipal water regulators, Prysby and Busch — two government workers whose jobs are to help protect the drinking water in Flint — have been rescheduled for May 18 at the court.

Busch, 40, of DeWitt served as the Lansing and Jackson District Supervisor for Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Water and Municipal Assistance.

State officials have said that section was responsible for mistakenly interpreting the federal Lead and Copper Rule, allowing Flint to use its river for drinking water from April 2014 until October 2015 without utilizing corrosion controls to prevent lead contamination.

Busch faces one charge of misconduct in office, one charge of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence and separate violations of water treatment and monitoring laws he was charged with enforcing.

Prysby, 53, of Bath held the position of district engineer with the DEQ. He faces two counts of misconduct in office; one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence; tampering with evidence; and separate violations of water treatment and monitoring laws.

Both have been suspended without pay and were arraigned on the charges last month.

In late February 2015, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency first began inquiring about Flint’s use of corrosion controls, emails show both he and Busch were confident that Flint did not need to implement corrosion controls until after two, six-month periods of water testing had been concluded.

But Busch told EPA in an email that Flint had “an optimized corrosion control program” in place. Two months later, after receiving an email from Prysby, a DEQ official admitted to EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral that no treatments were being implemented.

According to Schuette’s probe, Busch and Prysby also “obstructed and prevented” a county health official from investigating Legionnaires’ disease outbreak blamed in the deaths of 12 people in 2014 and 2015 while Flint was using river water. A key juncture in the Flint crisis came early in 2015, when EPA officials attempted to discern if Flint was using proper controls. EPA officials have said they were misled by the DEQ about the situation, and both Busch and Prysby were at the heart of that exchange.

The criminal charges leveled against all three men are the result of Schuette’s investigation of how Flint’s water system became beset with lead leaching from pipes into tap water.

Schuette and his team of investigators said they are looking at every aspect of Flint’s water crisis, dating back nearly a decade when Genesee County officials began planning to pull out of Detroit’s water system in favor of a new pipeline to Lake Huron that remains under construction.

Schuette said he anticipates additional charges in the not too distant future.