Flint Water Crisis

Attorney General Wants to Send 3 Bureaucrats to Jail for Role in Flint Water Crisis

Too bad Flint residents can't sue the government.

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Bill Schuette
Screenshot via Detroit News

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, has filed criminal charges against three government officials whose mistakes exacerbated the Flint water crisis, he claims. 

Mike Prysby and Stephen Busch, who work for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, are accused of tampering with lead levels, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and joint agreement to conceal test results from water samples. 

"They failed to discharge their duties," said Schuette in a statement. 

The attorney general has also brought charges against Mike Glasgow, a water supervisor in the city of Flint, for tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty. 

The charges against Glasgow are controversial because he was actually an opponent of the Flint River plan from the beginning. He even sent an email to other officials—Prysby included—claiming that the water treatment facility was not ready for operation, according to The Detroit News. 

Charges against the DEQ officials might make more sense. As Reason's Shikha Dalmia has noted, this agency ignored legitimate citizen concerns about the water. 

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency deserves plenty of blame, too: the EPA allowed the DEQ to run faulty water tests and failed to warn citizens of the clear dangers. 

Perhaps it's appropriate to file criminal charges against relatively low-level decision-makers, though this should not come at the expense of efforts to hold more senior officials accountable. Schuette, to his credit, has refused to rule out charges against Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican. In recent weeks, Snyder has expressed genuine contrition (unlike the EPA)—it remains to be seen whether his negligence merits criminal charges. 

It's not actually crystal clear that criminal charges are the right way to discipline any of the officials involved in the crisis. Criminal charges, of course, require the finding of a "guilty mind" in order to stick. While it's not difficult to prove that these various bureaucrats horribly failed in their duties, it might be harder to prove that they did so in an intentional and fully-aware manner. 

A better course of action—one that would not merely punish negligent bureaucrats, but also result in financial compensation for their victims—would be civil suits. Unfortunately, the government is (mostly) off the hook: it's very difficult to sue for damages because the government is almost entirely shielded from liability thanks to the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

That's just one of many reasons why Flint residents would be in better shape if their water utilities had been privatized to begin with: it's much easier to sue private corporations than it is to hold government officials accountable. 

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40 responses to “Attorney General Wants to Send 3 Bureaucrats to Jail for Role in Flint Water Crisis

  1. But why actually take the better course of action? It’s more difficult. The people will be happy that the scapegoats are being punished. No need to go further.

    1. Scapegoating serves to limit rebellion against the King to elections. Picking low-level scapegoats is usually enough, and also serves to remind civil servants who’s in charge. There’s a fine balance there, and politicians who haven’t learned the art will usually get tossed at election-time.

  2. “It’s not actually crystal clear that criminal charges are the right way to discipline any of the officials involved in the crisis. Criminal charges, of course, require the finding of a “guilty mind” in order to stick.”

    Concealing the results of tests that show the water is poisonous is criminal. Period.

    1. And since when is mens rea a consideration anymore anyway?

  3. Welp, now that we know who to blame, this problem is solved forever. *dusts off hands* You’re welcome, people of Flint.

  4. It really is just incredible that an enormous failure of government at all levels, one with actual damages and human suffering, is essentially ignored by the left in their haste to pin it all on the one Republican in the mix.

    1. you say this as though it is surprising. Why? I’m not sure Pubs wouldn’t do likewise if the script was flipped.

  5. I cannot see a problem with holding bureaucrats responsible for their actions.
    Imagine if cops had to take punishment for their actions; why, they might begin to take more care!

    1. Responding to your question last night re: Santa Claus, and whether or not I believe in him: prove he doesn’t. That was my only point. Atheists are obnoxious assholes when they deliver sermons on the subject of an equally unprovable conjecture, and they do their cause no favor with the moral preening and smug preaching about their intellectual superiority. That isn’t to say there aren’t interesting discussions to be had on the topic, just that it’s rich listening to the supposedly enlightened pro-science crowd ignore the rule of falsifiability. It’s a belief. That’s okay.

      Re: whether or not I’m an atheist, there is no phenomenon I would ascribe to divinity first rather than any number of other possible explanations. If “God” poked his head through the clouds and began berating humanity, I would be looking for the cosmic projector rather than groveling.

      1. What if God just wanted a space ship?

        1. Tell Him he can have all of NASA if He’s willing to fund it Himself.

      2. Atheists are obnoxious assholes when they deliver sermons on the subject of an equally unprovable conjecture, and they do their cause no favor with the moral preening and smug preaching about their intellectual superiority.

        I guess that’s equally rich coming from a guy who preens morally and preaches smugly on the subject of progressives, identity politics, and Trump voters.

        1. Nah; most conjecture about progs IS provable along with a good bit about the foolishness of identity politics. Trump seems more like arguing about religion.

      3. I don’t know what argument you can’t let go of, but there’s no comparison with atheists and deists trying to prove their faith: deists say there is, but he’s supernatural, and you have to take my word for it. Atheists say prove it sometimes, and there isn’t other times, but since most people, including atheists, know it’s pretty damned hard to prove a negative like that, it’s easy for me to put it down as hyperbole, as compared to the deist argument of “trust me, I’ve spoken with God, but you can’t speak directly to him, you have to go through me”.

        As far as I am concerned, who gives a shit? If God made me with free will, then he can live with the consequences, and if he made me as I am, then he also has to live with the consequences. I’m sure as hell not going to bow and scrape to some all-powerful being who wants me to second guess whatever has happened. If God is that kind of asshole, then fuck him anyway, since I’m doomed no matter what I try to second guess.

        1. It’s the tone, not the substance. Atheism+ turned me off the movement, but their inability to apply skepticism rigorously turned me off calling myself an atheist. One of the atheist podcasts I used to listen to, I can’t recall the name, involved a gentleman who was genuinely funny but turned into a pretentious, self-fellating asshole when the subject of theism came up. He would interrogate his guests about the slightest equivocations on the subject. What is the point, honestly? Either you’re reaching out as a public figure or you’re preaching to the choir. Eventually I decided I didn’t want to be in that choir, and unsubscribed. Libertarianism is enough identity politics for me.

          1. I would rather live in a society of backwards conservative Christians than one run by the bizarre cult of identity-obsessed millenarian progressive secularists. At least the conservatives put church before government, the atheist movement has in a big way made government their church.

            1. You are a full-blown idiot if you tar atheists with the proggie brush.

      4. prove he doesn’t. That was my only point.

        I think the burden of proof belongs to the one making a supernatural claim. If I say “there is no Santa Clause”, yes technically I’m making a definitive claim that one ought to have evidence to back up. But on those grounds, no one can say that anything doesn’t exist. I could claim that Donald Trump eats unborn fetuses and you could say “No he doesn’t” and technically speaking you ought to have video evidence of Trump over the course of his entire life, every moment, before you could definitively say that he doesn’t do this. But yet it’s reasonable to assert that he doesn’t based on the complete lack of evidence that he does. Reasonably then, the burden of proof in this debate rests with the guy claiming that Trump sucks all the delicious stem cells out of fetuses.

      5. commodious spittoon|4.21.16 @ 11:36AM|#
        “prove he doesn’t.”

        Are you joking or just stupid?
        What an asinine statement.

        1. Either you’re making an epistemological claim on the nature of the universe or you’re not and this is all moot. Which is it?

          1. One can be proven, in theory. One can’t, even in theory. Your choice.

            1. Which is just followed on by more god-of-the-gaps shenanigans, and I have to ask what’s wrong with acquiescing to non-overlapping magisteria?

  6. There is also the optics and the politics to consider: when bad shit happens, holding someone accountable gives the impression of doing something. It may be something wrongheaded or misguided, but it’s something toward saying “you fucked up” instead of the usual whitewashing that comes with govt shenanigans. Charging the official who told the AG things were not good seems a stretch but that’s how the raid on a whorehouse goes – you get the good with the bad. It does present Prysby with a Raymond Donovan moment, which sucks a bit.

  7. Damn, I would have thought Genesee County Drains Commissioner and CEO of the Karegnondi Water Authority Jeff Wright – the biggest proponent of the whole debacle and one of the ones who profited the most – would be first on the wrong end of the firing line. Maybe he has some protection?

  8. While it’s not difficult to prove that these various bureaucrats horribly failed in their duties, it might be harder to prove that they did so in an intentional and fully-aware manner.

    I don’t think that’s unique to this case, is it?

    If they did what they’re being accused of, jail seems pretty reasonable.

  9. OT: A GREAT ARTICLE AT ….VOX?!?!?

    http://www.vox.com/2016/4/21/1…..liberalism

    1. You lie!!

    2. *opens incognito window*

      Meh. For Vox, sure, it’s probably the best thing they’ve ever posted, but it doesn’t address the actual technocratic drive of liberals, it just admonishes them for letting the mask slip.

  10. **Actually reads article***
    That is really great.

  11. Mike Prysby and Stephen Busch, who work for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, are accused of tampering with lead levels…

    THEY PUT LEAD IN THE WATER? They should have been more like this guy and brought lead out of the water.

    1. They did not put lead in the water! They allowed the water remain, severely, corrosive, when they had the chemicals to correct it! The corrosion pulled the lead out of the antiquated lead pipes used in the old buildings and houses. If you are going to make claims, make sure they are the correct claims! Someone had to be responsible!

  12. Why are noble public servants being punished for a market failure? WHY NO BANKSTERS IN JAIL YET!??!

  13. Let’s be honest, all of these low level guys will get off with a fine or something if they agree to turn on someone else. Eventually they’ll charge the governor, and he’ll be found not guilty, but at least we had our concern theater for the plebs and red meat for the partisans.

  14. Q. What do you call three bureaucrats being sent to jail?

    A. A good start.

  15. Alternative Headline:

    AG begins campaign for either Governor or Congress

  16. End Sovereign/Limited Immunity…..NOW!
    If nothing else, the stampede for the civil-service exits would thin down the horde of locusts we call the Apparat.

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  18. Sovereign immunity is another of of these ideas that allow for good intentions but lead to bad consequences.

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