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Science & Environment

More Charges Expected In Flint's Contaminated Drinking Water Case

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., has resulted in three people facing criminal charges.

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BILL SCHUETTE: And there'll be more to come - that I can guarantee you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette speaking yesterday. He says this is an ongoing criminal investigation. But people are questioning just how high that investigation will go. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: The people charged are mid-level water quality managers with the state and the city of Flint. Critical mistakes were made while the city was under the control of state-appointed managers that caused lead to leach into the drinking water. Flint residents like Desiree Duell say the investigation and criminal charges need to go higher. She wants to see Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in a courtroom.

DESIREE DUELL: Ultimately, he was the decision-maker. And he needs to be held accountable.

PETER HENNING: If you want to build a case against someone that high up, you need someone beneath him who can point the finger.

PLUTA: Peter Henning is a Wayne State University law professor. Flint was under state control when the problem started, and key decisions were run through high levels of Michigan's government. But Henning says in malfeasance cases, it can be very difficult for investigators to build a case that cuts through the many layers of decision-making. And he says juries often suspect those cooperating are only trying to save their own skins.

HENNING: I wonder whether we will, in fact, see anyone else higher up the chain charged.

PLUTA: And Gov. Snyder insists he's not the Michigan official who messed things up.

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RICK SNYDER: This tragic situation was the result of bad decisions by bureaucrats. Again, I always described it in terms of people lacking common sense. This puts it in the context of criminal behavior.

PLUTA: Snyder says he has yet to be interviewed by investigators, who won't say whether he's on their list. He has hired, at taxpayer expense, an $800,000 legal team to try to fend off any criminal charges. Attorney General Schuette might appreciate that precedent because he wants to run for governor in two years. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Flint, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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