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Preliminary hearing begins for former Flint emergency manager

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A preliminary hearing is underway for a former emergency manager criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis.

The prosecution blames the crisis on Flint’s series of emergency managers, appointed by the governor to run the city of Flint amid a financial emergency.

Prosecutor Todd Flood told the judge in court on Monday that the emergency managers, including Darnell Earley, put money ahead of "human health and safety."  

Flood recounted how, to save money, the managers pushed through a plan to switch Flint’s drinking water source from Detroit to the Flint River.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Howard Croft, former Flint public works director

“Mr. Darnell Earley is the one who implemented and pulled the trigger,” said Flood.

Improperly treated river water damaged Flint’s pipes, releasing lead into the drinking water. Prosecutors have also tried to tie a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease to the water switch as well.  There is some dispute about the source of the Legionella bacteria. At least 12 people died in the outbreak. 

But Earley’s attorney insists the Flint water crisis is a “regulatory failure.”  

Defense Attorney Juan Mateo points the finger of blame at state and federal regulators who were supposed to monitor the operation of Flint’s water plant.

Mateo says Earley left his job as emergency manager before there was any clear evidence of serious problems with the city’s drinking water.

“At no time did Mr. Earley ever produce or subject anyone to water that was contaminated,” says Mateo, “That is one of the political narratives in this case that is just false.”

The hearing getting underway this week will determine if Earley and former city public works director Howard Croft will face trial on the charges against them. The charges include willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office.

Earley and Croft are the last Flint water defendants to begin their preliminary hearings. 

In all, 15 current and former government officials have been criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis. Four have entered into plea deals with prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation.   Two cases have reached the circuit court level. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.