Flint official pleads no contest in water probe

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Flint — The former utilities director in Flint has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor in an investigation of the city’s lead-tainted water.

Daugherty Johnson’s deal Tuesday means two felonies will be dropped. Defense attorney Edwar Zeineh said the misdemeanor also will be erased in the months ahead if Johnson continues to cooperate with the attorney general’s office.

According to the Flint Journal, Johnson pleaded no contest to failing to furnish water documents to a Genesee County Health Department employee investigating a possible connection between Flint water and Legionnaires' disease outbreaks.

Some former and current state environmental and health officials, including Michigan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells and state health director Nick Lyon, face charges for their roles in the water contamination and a subsequent Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to at least 12 deaths.

Johnson’s plea is the third as result of Flint’s water crisis.

Corinne Miller, who retired as director of the state’s bureau of epidemiology last year, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty in office in September 2016.

In May 2016, Flint’s former water utility administrator Michael Glasgow pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty in exchange for cooperating with state and federal investigations.

Johnson worked under Howard Croft, who served as director of public works, Flint's top utility official, from 2011 until he resigned his post in November 2015.

Johnson and Croft recommended a contract in June 2013 to then-Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz that seemingly committed the city to use water from the Flint River, which ended up causing lead contamination and likely the spread of Legionella bacteria. Kurtz signed off on it. The switch to Flint River water was primarily done as a money saver.

The April 2014 switch to Flint River water prompted quick complaints from residents about the taste, discoloration and rotten-egg odor and discoloration. It also lacked corrosion treatment to prevent aging pipes from leaching lead into the drinking water. As a result, corrosive water caused lead to break away in old pipes, contaminating the system. Flint switched back to Detroit’s system in October 2015.

Johnson, 48, had been charged with conspiracy and false pretenses in helping officials obtain money to build the new Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline.

According to the Flint Journal, Johnson faces up to one year of imprisonment or a fine of not more than $1,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

Associated Press contributed.