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Judge: Give Flint probe data to charged workers

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint — Current and former state officials facing criminal charges in the Flint water crisis won a legal battle Wednesday, gaining access to investigative data compiled by Michigan agencies in 2016.

The state’s Office of Auditor General and Office of Inspector General both initiated investigations into the handling of Flint’s water crisis last year. In May, Gov. Rick Snyder halted those operations after complaints about potential interference with Attorney General Bill Schuette’s own investigation into the decisions made in Flint.

Schuette and his team have so far charged 13 current and former state and local officials as part of the Flint investigation. Attorneys for many of those defendants wanted access to the information compiled by the Inspector General and Auditor General’s offices before their work was brought to a halt.

“It’s a taxpayer-funded investigation as it relates to Flint,” argued Mary Chartier, an attorney defending an employee of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in Genesee County court Wednesday. “Why is the auditor general refusing to turn over documents that relate to this investigation by withholding what may be exculpatory material?”

Attorneys for both Inspector General and Auditor General offices countered that the agencies’ work may be halted, but investigations are not complete.

“If we had to give the subpoenaed documents, the investigation would be compromised,” said Tim Reed, representing the Inspector General’s Office.

67th District Judge Jennifer Manley, however, ordered non-compelled materials and statements compiled from both agencies during their Flint investigations turned over to the defense.

Two defendants, Steve Busch and Michael Prysby, have an upcoming challenge that will be heard by the court in March. Busch served as the Lansing and Jackson district supervisor for Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Water and Municipal Assistance. Prysby held the position of district engineer with the DEQ.

Both are challenging whether they qualify as holding “public office” by the letter of the law. Their arguments will be heard at 10 a.m. on March 13.

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

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