Flint Officials Were Just Charged With Multiple Felonies in the City’s Water Crisis

Two former emergency managers could face up to 46 years in prison.

Kevin LaMarque/Reuters/ZUMA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


On Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged two former emergency managers with multiple felonies in an ongoing investigation of the dangerous levels of lead that turned up in Flint’s drinking water. Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, who were tasked with overseeing the beleaguered city’s finances between 2013 and 2015, were accused of false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office, and willful neglect. Schuette also charged two former Flint officials, Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson, with false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses. If found guilty, Earley and Ambrose would face up to 46 years in prison; Croft and Johnson would face 40 years.

“All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Schuette opened the investigation in January this year; to date, 13 former city and state officials have been charged.

“All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” said Schuette in a statement.

The charges call into question the efficacy of the emergency manager role, which enables the governor to appoint a representative to help balance a budget of economically failing cities. Other states have similar roles, but Michigan’s is the most expansive: Emergency managers have the power to cancel city contracts, unilaterally draft policy, privatize public services, fire elected officials, and more. Flint was one of the first cities in Michigan to be assigned an emergency manager, in 2011.

In 2014, under the management of Earley, the city switched water sources to the Flint River—a cost-saving measure that would prove to be disastrous. (Earley would go on to become the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools before stepping down in February this year.) In March 2015, as residents were reporting foul-smelling, tainted water coming from the taps, the Flint City Council voted to “do all things necessary” to switch back to Detroit’s water system—its former water source. Then-acting emergency manager Ambrose nixed the vote, calling it “incomprehensible.” By the end of the year, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver had declared a state of emergency because of children’s soaring blood lead levels.

Tuesday’s charges come just days after congressional Republicans quietly closed a yearlong investigation into the crisis, and two weeks after Congress cleared $170 million to address the Flint water crisis and help other areas with lead-tainted water. A recent Reuters investigation found nearly 3,000 areas with blood lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint at the peak of the crisis.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.