Flint water crisis timeline: How we got to second round of criminal charges
From Flint entering emergency management in 2011 to a second criminal investigation resulting in fresh charges
FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - The circumstances that ultimately led to the Flint water crisis started nearly a decade before the second round of criminal charges was announced Thursday.
Here is a timeline of how events unfolded, leading to thousands of Flint residents receiving lead poisoning from the water in their homes.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who was completing his first year in office, declared a “local government financial emergency” in Flint under Michigan’s Emergency Management law. The first emergency manager for the city was appointed on Nov. 29, 2011.
The Flint City Council voted to leave the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and begin obtaining drinking water from the Karegnondi Water Authority, when its new pipeline from Lake Huron to Genesee County was complete.
However, the city needed an interim water source after disconnecting from Detroit and before the KWA pipeline started. That led to the disastrous decision to draw water from the Flint River flowing through the city.
The consulting firm of Lockwood, Andrews & Newman began working with Flint to prepare the city’s water treatment plant for operations after sitting idle for several years.
In June, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notified Flint and Genesee County officials that no corrosion control would be required after the switch in water sources.
In March, an update for Snyder’s staff stated that the expedited timeframe for the KWA pipeline is “less than ideal” and “could lead to some big disasters down the road.”
On April 17, Michael Glasgow of the Flint Water Plant sent an email stating: “If the water is distributed from this plant in the next several weeks it will be against my direction.”
Nevertheless, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling flipped a switch on April 25, officially switching Flint’s water source to the Flint River. The city issued a news release that day declaring “Flint water is safe to drink.”
By summer, complaints began pouring in about illnesses possibly linked to the water and its quality.
The first outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was reported around Flint in the summer and fall. Suzzane Kolch allegedly was the first victim to die of the pneumonia illness.
On Oct. 14, an official from Snyder’s staff recommended switching Flint back to the Detroit water system as an interim solution before the KWA pipeline began flowing.
That same month, the General Motors manufacturing complex in Flint stopped using city water because it was blamed for corroding auto parts.
Emails say a state office building in Flint began installing water coolers on each floor.
On Jan. 12, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department offered to reconnect Flint’s water supply at no cost, but then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley declined. The Flint City Council approved a ceremonial resolution in March supporting the switch back.
On Jan. 28, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official Corinne Miller presented materials to Director Nick Lyon about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County dating back to 2014.
Water services consultant Veolia entered a contract with Flint to address drinking water quality concerns. The firm produced a report and made a public presentation indicated that Flint’s water complied with all state and federal regulations.
However, the first tests of water at Lee Anne Walters’ home in Flint showed massive lead contamination in late February. Lead levels were seven times the acceptable limit, according to the EPA.
A group of concerned pastors called on Snyder to declare a State of Emergency in Flint the following month.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notified the EPA in April that no corrosion control was in place for Flint’s water system. In June, EPA official Miguel Del Toral sent a memo recommending a study of whether the state agency abused its discretion.
During the summer, Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, and senior aide Harvey Hollins met with Flint-area pastors and citizens, who raised concerns about major lead contamination. A second Legionnaires’ outbreak was reported during the summer and fall.
A Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official raises concerns about lead poisoning on July 28 after analyzing blood samples. She believes it warrants further study, but Lyon forwards a memo to Snyder saying the water is not a major factor.
On Sept. 6, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University publishes results of a study raising serious concerns about Flint’s water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center, released study results on Sept. 24 showing elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint children.
Lyon drafted an email on Sept. 28 calling for an analysis of the studies from Virginia Tech and Hanna-Attisha. He indicated that he blood lead levels could be attributed to seasonal fluctuations.
Snyder claims he first heard about dangerous levels of lead in Flint’s water on Oct. 1. Genesee County issued a Public Health Emergency Declaration for everyone using Flint water that same day.
The state began passing out free water filters and replacement cartridges to Flint residents in early October. The filters were able to remove enough lead from contaminated water to make it safe to drink.
Flint reconnected to the Detroit water system on Oct. 16, but the city still planned to join the KWA when its pipeline became available.
Snyder declared a State of Emergency for Genesee County on Jan. 5 and several distribution sites with free bottled water and water filters opened across the city. Volunteers, police and the Michigan National Guard eventually went door-to-door around Flint passing out filters and bottled water.
President Barack Obama also declared a federal State of Emergency as a result of the Flint water crisis. Obama sent Dr. Nicole Lurie, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, to Flint so she could coordinate the federal response.
Snyder also announced 87 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease on Jan. 13, including nine deaths, since the spring of 2014.
Snyder requested and the Michigan Legislature approved $28 million in emergency funding for assisting the city of Flint in responding to the water crisis. He also announced a $30 million credit so Flint water customers wouldn’t have to pay for a product they can’t use.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver received some of her executive authority over the city beginning in January. Up to this point, emergency managers controlled nearly all day-to-day city business.
Weaver announced the FAST team in February, which eventually morphed into a $150 million citywide project to investigate all water service lines and replace any made of lead or galvanized metal. The project officially began on March 4.
Congress launched hearings into what caused the Flint water crisis on Feb. 3. Weaver testified before a congressional panel with Hanna-Attisha the following week, but Snyder and former emergency manager Darnell Earley initially declined to testify.
Snyder and the EPA administrator testified before a congressional committee on March 17 about the Flint water crisis. Later in the month, a panel appointed by the governor found the state of Michigan was “fundamentally accountable” for the water crisis due to decisions made by environmental regulators.
On April 19, Schuette announced the first criminal charges against Glasgow and two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials -- Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby. He filed a civil lawsuit against consulting firms Veolia and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman on July 29.
More criminal charges were filed in July against Robert Scott, Nancy Peeler and Corinne Miller of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, along with Adam Rosenthal, Liane Shekter-Smith and Patrick Cook of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Additional criminal charges were filed against emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, along with Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson of the Flint Department of Public Works by the end of the year.
Weaver issued a recommendation in April that Flint remain with the Great Lakes Water Authority and not connect with to the KWA pipeline. The authority is a regional cooperative formed to manage the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department assets.
The Flint City Council agreed to a six-month extension of the water contract through Sept. 30. After a federal judge ordered the council to make a long-term decision, council members approved a two-year extension with the authority in October and a 30-year extension in November.
Schuette filed additional criminal charges against Lyon, Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, Earley, Busch, Shekter-Smith and Croft.
Court proceedings for all of the defendants continued through 2017 and 2018 in Genesee County District Court. Seven defendants made pleas in their cases:
- Miller -- no contest to willful neglect of duty.
- Busch -- no contest to disturbing the peace in a public building.
- Prysby -- to violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Shekter-Smith -- no contest to disturbing the peace in a public building.
- Adam Rosenthal -- no contest to failing to make public facilities available to investigators.
- Glasgow -- no contest to willful neglect of duty and failure to cooperate with an ongoing investigation.
- Johnson -- guilty to public records inspection.
Genesee County district judges conducted lengthy preliminary hearings for Lyon and Wells. Both were bound over to trial in Genesee County Circuit Court. Ambrose waived his preliminary hearing and was awaiting trial in circuit court.
Weaver’s administration at Flint City Hall took over operation of the city’s four remaining bottled water distribution sites and the continued giveaway of water filters. The state continued to provide full funding for both programs, however.
The Flint Registry program, which connects residents with resources to help with recovering from the water crisis, debuted in January.
Four community HELP Centers that provided assistance to residents, such as replacement water filter cartridges, closed in March temporarily and cut back to a new schedule of three days a week. Snyder announced in April that state funding for the four remaining bottled water distribution sites would end.
Private donations continued the flow of bottled water after the PODS sites ended, but eventually funding dried up for that effort. Weaver asked Snyder to reconsider cutting off the bottled water supply, but he declined.
The citywide project of investigating water service lines at all Flint residences and replacing all lead or galvanized pipes with copper reached its fifth phase in May.
Weaver maintained that Flint’s tap water was not entirely safe to drink until the water service line replacement project was complete. However, Snyder declared Flint’s water is safe to drink and cleaner than many other cities.
Free bottled water remained available through three community Help Centers operating one day per week at Flint churches. Nestle offered to donate bottled water from its Ice Mountain plant in Stanwood.
Schuette’s term ended and Attorney General Dana Nessel took over. She focused on civil litigation related to the Flint water crisis and appointed Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to lead the criminal investigation.
Flood, who was Schuette’s chief investigation, stayed on to assist with the investigation for the first few months of the year before he was relieved of his duties. Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud joined Worthy as a lead prosecutor in the investigation.
In June, Hammoud and Worthy announced that all criminal charges pending against Lyon, Wells, Ambrose, Earley, Peeler, Cook, Scott and Croft would be dropped. Instead, the prosecutors would launch a brand new investigation from the start, claiming Flood’s investigation was flawed.
They detailed their decision and concerns about Flood’s investigation during a packed community meeting in June.
Weaver lost her bid for re-election in November and Sheldon Neeley, who was serving his final term as a state representative, won the top job at City Hall.
Prosecutors petitioned Genesee County’s chief judge in January to appoint a grand jury in the investigation.
Genesee County Judge David Newblatt was named a one-man grand jury to look at evidence and consider what criminal charges should be filed.
Separately, Flint received nearly $400 million in funding related to the water crisis, but an ABC12 News investigation found that accounting for all of it is hazy. About $46 million went toward economic development in Flint.
The citywide water service line replacement project reached its final phase during the summer.
In August, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Nessel announced a $600 million settlement on behalf of the state for dozens of civil lawsuits filed over the water crisis. The settlement called for 80% of funds to go for young children who suffered lead poisoning in Flint, likely netting six-figure awards for them.
McLaren Flint Hospital agreed to add $20 million to the settlement fund while Rowe Professional Services added $1.2 million. The Flint City Council approved its $20 million contribution in December, pushing the settlement fund to $641.2 million.
Congressman Dan Kildee obtained congressional approval for more funding to continue the Flint Registry and its ongoing referral services.
Hammoud and Worthy filed a total of 42 criminal charges against nine defendants. Snyder was the most notable of the defendants while his senior aide, Rich Baird, faced the most serious charges. Wells faced the most charges with 12.
All nine defendants turned themselves in and were booked into the Genesee County Jail on Jan. 14. They all appeared for arraignment and were released on bond pending future court proceedings in January and February.
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