Evidence being reviewed in Flint water crisis case

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Flint — Two Michigan Department of Environmental municipal water regulators charged criminally in the investigation of Flint’s lead-contaminated drinking water crisis were ordered back to court on July 20 for a preliminary exam.

Michael Prysby

Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch appeared briefly Wednesday before 67th District Court Judge Jennifer Manley with their attorneys at their sides.

Over the next two months, lawyers for the men will examine tens of thousands of pages of documents in the case that were turned over by special prosecutor Todd Flood, who is leading the state investigation into the water crisis for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

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.

Prysby, 53, of Bath, held the position of district engineer with the DEQ.

In court, Flood said he has turned over all the documents the government has given him in the case against the pair and has loaded the information on two flash drives for defense counsel.

Attorney Mark Kriger, who represents Busch, told the judge Wednesday that he has not received any witness statements and “those are extremely important” in the case.

Stephen Busch

Flood said if there were additional statements beyond what was provided, he would turn the information over. He also told the judge that DEQ has taken text messages and emails from state-owned computers and phones used by the defendants as evidence and will be a part of the case.

Both Busch and Prysby left court without comment. Prysby’s attorney, Frank Reynolds, said outside court that one of the flash drives in the case has 42,000 pages. The other he has not examined.

“So we have a lot of work to do, find out what is important and what isn’t,” Reynolds said. “I’m really confident in the case we have now. I am not shaking in my boots.”

Outside court, Flood said he is taking the investigation one day at a time. He would not say whether plea talks are part of this case for Busch and Prysby as they are in the case of co-defendant Michael Glasgow.

When asked when additional charges would be filed, Todd said: “We have to get it right. We can’t be forced by a timeline. Yes, we are still interviewing people.”

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.

State officials have said the section Busch supervises 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.

Prysby 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 issued by special prosecutors for State Attorney General Bill Schuette.

In late February 2015, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency first began inquiring about Flint’s use of corrosion controls, emails show both men 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 the state 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.

On May 4, Glasgow offered a no contest plea 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.

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.

Flood said if Glasgow, 40, of Otisville, does not fulfill all the conditions of his plea agreement, he will reinstate all charges against him.

Manley took the plea under advisement. She delayed her decision on the plea and scheduled the next court date for Aug. 3.

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