Flint water crisis cases could be combined

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint — Eight current and former state employees facing criminal charges stemming from the Flint water crisis could move forward together in the next court proceedings.

Officials with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and defense attorneys representing six of the defendants reached an agreement Tuesday for their preliminary hearings to be held in conjunction with two other state officials charged earlier this year.

The six people charged by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office late last month are: Liane Shekter Smith, former head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, DEQ Water Quality officials Patrick Cook and Adam Rosenthal, Department of Health and Human Services officials Corinne Miller, Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott.

All face charges centering on an alleged failure to perform their roles in protecting public health.

In April, Schuette’s office filed similar criminal charges against DEQ employees Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch.

If the proposed joining of all eight cases is accepted, they will be heard by Judge Jennifer J. Manley. Manley could decide as early as Tuesday if she will hear the cases at one time or combined.

Special Assistant Attorney General Tom Dawson announced the proposal, saying the eight cases overlap.

“We have 10 to 15 witnesses that are going to be the same as with Mr. Busch and Mr. Prysby as with these defendants,” Dawson said Tuesday. “There are about 50 exhibits that are going to be the same as well.”

Brian Morley is representing Shekter Smith, the only state official to be fired as a result of Flint’s water crisis. He stressed grouping the cases would be for a preliminary hearing only and that step is being taken solely for scheduling purposes.

Asked if he read anything into the prosecution’s overlap in witnesses and exhibits, Morley said he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“I’m still not sure what they’re trying to show,” he said following the brief hearing in 67th District Court on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s there. ... There is no smoking gun.”

A ninth person connected to Flint’s water crisis pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty after agreeing to cooperate with state and federal investigators.

Flint water utility administrator Michael Glasgow struck a plea deal with Schuette’s office in May.

Manley took the plea under advisement but has delayed her decision on whether to accept it.

Flint’s crisis began soon after the city — while under the control of an emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder — began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014. Originally conceived as a cost-saving move, the switch to river water backfired when state and local officials failed to add chemicals to prevent line corrosion and lead contamination.

Residents immediately began complaining of taste and smell issues with the water. Roughly a year ago, researchers began to uncover high levels of lead in the water as well as in the blood work of local children.

In October, Flint returned to its historic water provider — now known as the Great Lakes Water Authority — in the hopes of getting potable tap water to its residents. The water quality has improved, but progress has been slow and residents continue to use filtered or bottled water.


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