Who is facing criminal prosecution for the Flint water scandal?

When the much-maligned emergency manager and other officials in Flint, Michigan, switched the municipal water supply from Detroit Water & Sewerage to the Flint River, they unleashed a disaster -- and a national scandal. Many Flint residents' tap water contained poisonous levels of lead and other contaminants, requiring them to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and even bathing.

Worse, evidence has surfaced that some officials involved in the switch knew or should have known there was a problem, according to the ABA Journal. The more-corrosive Flint River water would leach lead out of pipes and poison the city's tap water unless the water system made approximately $8 million in system upgrades and added corrosion control chemicals at the plant.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is under enormous pressure to bring dramatic criminal charges at the highest level. Could Flint's much-maligned emergency manager, state water or health officials, or even Governor Snyder be held criminally responsible?

Felony charges filed against 3 for manipulating lead tests, 6 others facing misdemeanors

In civil court, Schuette has filed lawsuits against two consulting firms for allegedly causing Flint's water problems to "occur, continue and worsen." Private attorneys have filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of affected individuals and classes of residents. Nonprofits including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the NAACP are also suing over the issue.

As far as criminal charges are concerned, Schuette has so far brought charges against only nine people, all low-level officials. However, the investigation is ongoing.

The criminal complaint accuses Flint's former lab and water quality supervisor and two officials from the Department of Environmental Quality of manipulating test results by instructing residents to flush their taps before taking samples. That would have resulted in false, low readings of lead in the water.

The three men were charged in April with felony misconduct, neglect of duty, violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and conspiracy to tamper with evidence. In May, one man pled no contest to misdemeanor willful neglect of duty and is said to be cooperating with the investigation.

In July, Schuette filed misdemeanor charges of misconduct and willful neglect of duty against six more state employees; three from Health and Human Services and three from the Department of Environmental Quality.

As we watch in helpless outrage as the Flint crisis unfolds, it's easy to throw blame around. We all want those who caused so much harm and heartbreak to be held accountable. It is important to remember that proving criminal responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt requires evidence.

In such a complex case, clear evidence of guilt can only be discovered with time and work. Until all the facts are in, we simply can't know who was responsible -- and who was not.


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