By Sara Jerome,
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed charges against state employees this week for their alleged roles in the Flint lead contamination crisis.
The announcement marks the third legal action in Schuette’s Flint investigation. “A total of nine people are facing charges, accused of causing or covering up the crisis. The state has also filed a civil suit against two companies that allegedly knew about the poisoned water and failed to act,” NPR reported.
This week, Schuette filed charges against four current and two former employees from two Michigan departments, his office announced.
“It’s part arrogance. It’s part viewing people in Flint as expendable,” Schuette said, per The Wall Street Journal.
“The families of Flint will not be forgotten. We will provide the justice they deserve,” he said in a statement. “And in Michigan, the justice system is not rigged. There is one system of justice. The laws apply to everyone, equally, no matter who you are. Period.”
The accusations center on government staffers who allegedly contributed to the crisis “by withholding vital information from the public about ongoing lead poisoning and allowing the continued distribution of corrosive water from the Flint Water Treatment Plant,” Schuette’s announcement said.
At the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller, and Robert Scott were charged. At the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Liane Shekter-Smith, Adam Rosenthal, and Patrick Cook were charged, the Detroit Free Press reported, citing testimony in Flint’s district court.
Smith, for instance, “served as chief of the DEQ’s division overseeing the change in Flint’s water source in 2014 that led to the contamination. Ms. Shekter Smith was fired from the DEQ in February,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Despite receiving notice of citizen complaints about water quality and knowledge of a Legionnaires outbreak and issues with lead levels, Shekter-Smith, in her high-ranking position that included supervision of key MDEQ employees, not only allegedly failed to take corrective action or notify public health officials but, in fact took steps to mislead and conceal evidence from health officials in phone calls revealed by the investigation,” Schuette’s office said.
A lawyer for Shekter-Smith said, per the Journal: “Any criminal allegations against Ms. Shekter Smith are unfounded.”
Miller, meanwhile, allegedly urged employees against taking action in response to a report on high lead levels in Flint children, MLive reported. She also allegedly told employees to delete emails about the findings.
Miller, who retired in April, served as director of the state's Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Human Services. She “was charged with felony misconduct in office and conspiracy, along with misdemeanor neglect of duty by a public officer,” the report said.
An independent investigation of the Flint crisis “concluded in March that officials within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are mostly to blame, although other officials share some responsibility, and called the prolonged poisoning of the Flint water supply ‘a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice,’” NPR reported.
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