Ex-health official gets probation in Flint water crisis
Flint – A former top state health official was sentenced to one year’s probation Monday for her role in the Flint water crisis, and seven other state employees charged in connection with the lead contamination of the city’s drinking water will have preliminary examinations later this year.
Corinne Miller, the retired head of the Health and Human Services Epidemiology Department, had pleaded no contest in September to a charge of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail.
But under a sentencing agreement, Judge Jennifer Manley of Flint’s 67th District Court spared Miller any incarceration, with conditions that include her continued cooperation with the state attorney general’s investigation into the water crisis. The seven other state employees face charges ranging from misconduct in office to tampering with evidence.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office said actions – and inaction – by state health employees led to Flint using its river for drinking water from April 2014 until October 2015 without employing corrosion controls to prevent lead contamination.
Unsuspecting Flint residents, including thousands of children, were exposed to water with high concentrations of lead. The resulting crisis has been linked to several deaths, including cases of Legionnaires’ disease. It has made international news as officials scrambled to provide filters and bottled water to families.
“(Miller) was the first one to come forward and face the music,” Todd Flood, special prosecutor in the case, told reporters outside the courtroom Monday. “And she is continuing to cooperate.”
Besides providing her help, Miller must stay crime-free, do 300 hours of community service, pay $1,325 in court costs and fees, and write a letter apologizing to the citizens of Flint, Manley ordered Monday.
Miller was accused of failing to respond properly to an early report that Flint children had high levels of lead in their blood. She also allegedly told state health employees to delete emails relating to the report.
Flood declined to discuss whether others might be charged in the Flint investigation. He argued successfully Monday against a request from defense attorneys for the dismissal of misconduct charges against Michael Francis-Gerard Prysby, a district engineer, and Stephen Benjamin Busch, a DEQ district supervisor, and other defendants.
Prysby, Busch and the five other defendants all will have preliminary examinations later this year to determine if they will stand trial on charges that can carry up to five years in prison and fines.
Defense attorneys Richard Krause and James Burdick both told Manley that their clients are not public officials and the charge did not apply to them. They claimed charges of evidence tampering also were unsubstantiated. Manley declined to rule on either charge, explaining a preliminary examination would be the proper forum for full arguments.
Those exams were scheduled for Prysby, Busch and three MDEQ employees beginning Sept. 18 and for two Health and Human Services Department workers on Nov. 13.
Some of the seven workers not only failed to take corrective action or notify public health officials but participated in a cover up, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Among the charges against them:
■Liane Shekter-Smith, then-chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, is charged with one count of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty.
■Adam Rosenthal, a water quality analyst who worked in Shekter-Smith’s section, was warned by Flint Water Plant officials they were not ready for operations and warned by the EPA that high levels of lead are usually due to particulate lead, an indication of a corrosion problem. In 2015, Rosenthal allegedly helped manipulate lead testing results and falsely reported that results were below the federal action level. He is charged with misconduct in office, neglect of duty and tampering with evidence.
■Patrick Cook, a specialist for the community drinking water unit and the MDEQ official responsible for compliance with lead and copper monitoring, signed a permit that was the last approval necessary for the use of the Flint water treatment plant. Cook was allegedly aware of problems with the water but took no corrective action. He allegedly provided misleading and false information to the EPA and is charged with misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, and conspiracy.
Two other Health and Human Services workers, Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott, are charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy and willful neglect of duty.
Peeler was the director of a program for Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting. She requested an internal report in July 2015 that showed a significant spike in blood lead levels in children for the summer of 2014. The Attorney General’s Office alleges the report was buried and never forwarded by Peeler or others to appropriate health officials.
Instead Peeler allegedly worked with Scott, data manager for the healthy homes and lead prevention program, to create a second report that indicated no statistically significant rise in blood lead levels.
Another co-defendant, Michael Glasgow, 41, of Otisville pleaded guilty in May to a reduced charge of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor.
Sentencing for Glasgow, a municipal water treatment operator, was set aside by Manley pending his agreement to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
Jennifer Chambers contributed.