4 newly charged officials plead not guilty in Flint water probe - Tucson News Now

4 newly charged officials plead not guilty in Flint water probe

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -

The Michigan attorney general announced on Tuesday four additional people have been charged in the Flint water investigation.

Attorney General Bill Schuette charged former emergency managers Darnell Earley, 65, and Gerald Ambrose, 72, with multiple 20-year felonies for their failure to protect the residents of Flint from health hazards caused by contaminated drinking water.

Not-guilty pleas were entered for all four.

Earley was silent as he walked out of the courthouse Wednesday. His attorney said they are confident all charges will be cleared.

"This is a very legal matter. We will handle it in a legal way, not necessarily through the public, and allow the process to take its place. We are confident he will be vindicated through the process," said Todd Perkins, Earley's attorney.

Earley and Ambrose separately were state-appointed emergency managers in Flint in 2014-15 when the city was using the Flint River as a source of drinking water.

A lot of people tried to right to get rid of the emergency manager law that allows the governor to put un-elected officials in charge of the city's financial decisions.

"The emergency manager law, we call it a dictatorship and a robbing of democracy. I never believed in it," Flint Councilman Eric Mays said.

Flint resident Ronald Barnesbey said the state should no longer be able to put an emergency manager in place after the issues that came from the water crisis.

"It's something that should be chosen by the people of the city of Flint. We are the ones that are suffering. We are going through these things because of their decisions," Barnesbey said.

Schuette said Earley and Ambrose committed Flint to $85 million in bonds to join a new regional water pipeline to Lake Huron while at the same time using a city water plant that was not equipped to properly treat the river water before it went to roughly 100,000 residents.

Schuette also charged Earley, Ambrose and Flint city employees Howard Croft, 51, and Daugherty Johnson, 47, with felony counts of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses in the issuance of bonds to pay for a portion of the water project that led to the crisis.

"The tragedy that we know as the Flint water crisis did not happen by accident," Schuette said. "Flint was a tragedy of arrogance, disdain and a failure of management. An absence of accountability. We will proceed to deliver justice and hold those accountable who broke the law." 

Thirteen people have now been charged in an investigation of Flint's lead-tainted water system and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, which has killed 12 people so far. 

Perhaps the most significant catch so far: Corrine Miller, Michigan's former director of disease control, pleaded no contest to willful neglect of duty in September. She said she was aware of dozens of cases of Legionnaires' in the Flint area around the same time the city changed its water source, but she didn't report it to the general public.

Schuette also announced Tuesday he has filed a round of civil lawsuits against water supply engineering firms Veolia and LAN  for professional negligence and fraud.  

“Many things went tragically wrong in Flint, and both criminal conduct and civil conduct caused harm to the families of Flint and to the taxpayers of Michigan,” Schuette said.  “In Flint, Veolia and LAN were hired to do a job and failed miserably. Their fraudulent and dangerous recommendations made a bad situation worse.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said she is patient because the process of indictment is far from over.

"You know what, there were some things that the governor and other people at the state could have spoken out about. Really, we had issues with local, state and federal. Everybody had forgotten about Flint. Nobody was talking about Flint," Weaver said.

Schuette said the probe will continue and it could go even higher.

"We're not out to nail anybody. Now mind you, if you've done something wrong, then you ought to be worried," Schuette said.

Residents respond to charges

Water activist Melissa Mays responded to the charges.

"These people should go to jail. They should have their rights taken away like we did under the emergency manager law. We had no rights. We had no say," Mays said.

Mays said so far none of the individuals charged have had real punishment.

"They should have to actually sit in Genesee County Jail because they still don't have safe water. Ya know, they are getting two bottles of water a day to the inmates. They should have to know what it is like to live here," Mays said.

Mays would like to see Gov. Rick Snyder and state appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz added to the list of the people who should go to trial.

"We want to see more criminal charges and we want to see them actually stick. We want to see people actually serve time so that way we can actually feel like we got justice for Flint," Mays said.

Flint water activist Bishop Jefferson said the charges are a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.

"It is impossible to go from here. You need to fix what has been broken before you can go forward. You can't just pick up and say, 'I'm going forward.' It's impossible," Jefferson said.

She said her family chose to move out of Flint because of the lead laced pipes. She has even been a part of an ongoing Flint water lawsuit against the city and state. Jefferson said since Snyder was appointing some of these people he should be the next person facing criminal charges.

Shayne Hodges, Flint resident, said he's happy the hammer finally dropped on those he feels are most responsible for the water problems.

"It was a big surprise to see the emergency managers be charged as well as Howard Croft, the public works director," Hodges said.

Hodges still doesn't trust the water coming out of his tap. He even moved his family's toothbrushes to the kitchen so they remember to use bottled water for brushing their teeth.

"Now we have a chance to protect ourselves. Before we were told everything is fine and we didn't know how to protect ourselves. So at least it is getting better in that sense and we can get fresh water from the nine locations, plus other places," Hodges said.

He said he has a sense of comfort knowing Early and Ambrose have been charged. He said that is enough for him to think justice will prevail.

"It was very encouraging. It feels like they are really going to get to the bottom of this and not just let it go away," Hodges said.

Read more about the lawsuit here

Flint's water system became contaminated with lead because water from the Flint River wasn't treated for corrosion for 18 months. The water ate away at a protective coating inside old pipes and fixtures, releasing lead.

Look below for a full list of charges:

Read Ambrose's exit letter to Gov. Snyder below:

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver issued this statement: 

 “I’m glad more and more people are being held accountable for this man-made water disaster,” said Mayor Weaver. The people of Flint need and deserve justice for what happened here and I appreciate the work Attorney General Schuette, Prosecutor David Leyton and the entire team is doing to bring justice to Flint. The leaders in charge at the time could have prevented this disaster, but they didn’t. They did not protect the health and well-being of the citizens of this city and that’s wrong. They didn’t even listen when residents spoke up saying there was a problem. That is how we got here and everyone who had a role in allowing this tragedy to happen must face the consequences of their actions.”

Congressman Dan Kildee released the following statement on the additional criminal charges: 

“Justice for Flint families is important and I support ongoing investigations, led by the facts, which seek to hold those who caused this crisis responsible. Today’s criminal charges, including against two of Governor Snyder’s state-appointed emergency managers, is an indictment not only of their decisions, but an indictment against the administration’s failed emergency manager law that contributed to this crisis.

“There are many forms of justice; one of them is certainly holding accountable the state officials who created this crisis. Another form of justice is the state stepping up to provide more resources to families who continue to live without access to clean drinking water. The state and the Governor must act in a bigger way to help in Flint’s recovery.”

Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) has issued this statement following the charges:

“For the last two years, Flint residents have suffered an unimaginable tragedy as their water has been polluted due to Flint River water corroding the pipes. The misguided decisions and lack of accountability in response to the city’s crisis has been unacceptable, which is why in September 2015 I called on the attorney general to conduct a thorough investigation into those involved. I am pleased to see justice being served today as more individuals responsible for this crisis have been served with criminal charges, and I hope that the severity of these charges is enforced, rather than merely being a show of political theater. Two of the four individuals charged by the attorney general today were the former emergency managers who gave the green light to switch to the Flint River, which resulted in the city’s water supply being tainted with lead. I have long been an outspoken opponent of the emergency manager law, as these individuals often prioritize dollar signs above human lives, as evidenced in Flint. I hope that the results of these charges will convince my colleagues in the Legislature to reconsider the emergency manager law in the next session, if not to repeal it entirely, then at least in part to ensure it no longer indemnifies the criminal actions of emergency managers.”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press / WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. 

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