Today the Michigan attorney general filed felony charges against four former officials, including two emergency managers for Flint, Michigan, over their alleged roles in the water crisis in the city.
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Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged the four officials with multiple felonies, including conspiracy to commit false pretenses and false pretenses over their roles in the crisis. Each of those charges carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
"Flint deserves better. The people of Flint are not expendable," he said in a press conference today announcing the charges. "People in positions of responsibility, who broke the law, must be held responsible."
Schuette went on to say that the crisis has led some people in the community to use only bottled water for drinking and cleaning all their food.
"That's not normal, and that's not what Flint's future and expectation should be," he said.
The Flint water crisis started after elevated lead levels were found in the city's water when it was drawing its supply from the Flint River in April 2014, after it disconnected from Detroit's municipal water system. The move was intended as a stopgap measure until the completion of a pipeline to Lake Huron as the source for Flint's municipal water.
But it was later discovered that lead from Flint's old pipes was leaching into the water because of improper treatment of the more corrosive water from the Flint River. The city switched back to the Detroit water supply in October 2015, but residents are still advised to use filters out of an abundance of caution, and officials are continuing to monitor lead levels at multiple sites in the system.
Charges filed today from Schuette's office were against Darnell Earley, a former emergency manager for Flint appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, and Gerald Ambrose, a finance director who succeeded Earley. The two were charged in connection to the mandate to use the Flint Water Treatment Plant, before the plant was ready to effectively clean the water, according to a statement from Schuette.
According to the attorney general's office, Earley and Ambrose allegedly claimed the bankrupt city needed to borrow tens of millions of dollars from the state because of an "environmental calamity." However, the office added, the funding was intended not for an "emergency cleanup of a retention pond," as the pair claimed, but for Flint's portion of the water pipeline project. The funding proposal included a requirement that the city use the Flint River as an interim water source and the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
The two have also been charged with misconduct in office, a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and willful neglect of duty in office, a misdemeanor.
Two other city officials have also been charged for their alleged roles in the crisis: Howard Croft, the former director of Flint's Department of Public Works, and Daugherty Johnson, who served as the utilities director for Flint's Department of Public Works. Schuette alleged that Croft and Johnson discouraged returning to the Detroit water system, required use of the Flint River water and put pressure on employees at the Flint Water Treatment Plant to start operations before the plant was safe to use.
Thus far, 13 state and local officials have been charged in connection with the Flint water crisis, including the four charged today.
"When the deadline closed in, rather than sound the alarm, the defendants allegedly ignored warnings and test results and shut off the pipes pulling clean water from Detroit and turned on the Flint River valves," the statement from Schuette's office read.
Despite improvements in lead levels, many in the city are wary of using tap water for drinking or even for bathing. Kenyatta Dotson, a resident and community activist who also works in local government, said in an interview earlier this month that none of her family members feel they can safely drink from a faucet.
"My kids won't drink from any faucet," she said, explaining that they've come to distrust tap water in general.
"They can't drink from any faucet, even in Alabama," Dotson said. "It's devastating."
She said the water crisis has so eroded trust in government that many feel hopeless that the situation will ever get better.
"I think people are trying to get to a place of hope," Dotson said. "We're trying to get to a place where we see light at the end of the tunnel."