Friday, January 06, 2023

Benton Harbor ARPA funding - Has fraud been committed?

Rev. Pinkney found a media report listing recipients of Benton Harbor’s $9.8 million ARPA funds. The city filed the lists (see the end for the most recent list) on 4/19/21 and 4/20/22. American Rescue Plan Act distributes federal money to municipalities to aid Americans in covid recovery. At least that's the stated purpose. 

The problem is, there is no evidence or record of ARPA grants or funding 

in the Benton Harbor community.


Rev. Pinkney believes the city has acted illegally in four ways:

- Bank Fraud

- False Statement to a Financial Institution

- Money Laundering

- Fraud Scheme


By filing the list below, the city states to the federal gov. that everything on the list is true. Pinkney does not believe the list is correct and true, so therefore, Wire Fraud has also been committed.


He wants the city to supply the following information:

   1.  Why were there no ARPA funding community meetings? 

No community discussion? Other towns included residents in the funding decisions.

   2.  Was there a vote on the list below?

   3.  Who in Benton Harbor has the authority to assign the massive figure of one and a half million dollars to anybody? 

The amount itself definitely warrants a discussion among residents!


Benton Harbor residents reading this list will most likely question it's veracity.


Residents relief                   1,560, 000. (million!)

Renter assistance                500,000.  

Utilities                                500,000.

Internet access.                   30,000.

Neighborhood improvement 

Vacant Lot clean up            150,000.

Park Safety improvements  350.000.

Block Club                            40,000.

Youth Employment             200,000.

Camera System                    250,000.

Fire Hydrants                       75,000.

Water& Sewer                      1,200, 000.

Non profit- Small Business loans   112, 882. 

Church internet                    30,000.

Community Garden             12,882.

Income tax                             250,000.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Where is the public engagement and government transparency in Benton Harbor?

 November 21, 2022


Ms. Tiffany Moore

Chief Clerk

Benton Harbor City Hall

200 E. Wall Street

Benton Harbor, MI 49022


RE: Immediate Request for Extension of Comment Period and for a Public Hearing Regarding the City of Benton Harbor Water System Alternatives Analysis


Dear Ms. Moore:


We, the community leaders and residents of Benton Harbor, in partnership with the other undersigned organizations (collectively, the "Signatories"), request an immediate extension of the public comment period for the City of Benton Harbor (the "City") Water System Alternatives Analysis (the "Report) and request a public hearing to ensure that the residents of Benton Harbor both fully understand the Report and have an opportunity to have their voices heard!


The Unilateral Administrative Order (the "Order") dated November 2, 2022, very clearly mandates that the City provide a substantial public comment period that lasts at least 30 days, and requires receipt, review, and acknowledgement of all public comments.? The minimal 30-day review period chosen by the City includes the Thanksgiving holiday, ultimately reducing the amount of available time for the public to review and respond to the 156-page Report. Furthermore, the City failed to schedule a public meeting to explain the contents of this complex and lengthy Report. The proposed comment period and comment process do not provide sufficient notice or opportunity for the public to understand, let alone meaningfully comment, on the Report. Sadly, this approach is consistent with the City's past processes of failing to provide the residents of Benton Harbor with

accurate and up-to-date information about the quality of their water and the potential future of their water system. Indeed, we understand that as of November 2022, City officials are currently telling residents that the water is safe to drink when, in fact, filters are still required for a minimum of six months to ensure that the drinking water is free from lead contamination.


The Signatories also request additional information relating to the public water systems's existing debt and corresponding cost calculations. Similar to the lack of transparency of the public comment period and process, there is also a lack of transparency regarding the cost estimates in Table ES-1 in the Report. Table ES-1 is premised on a certain amount of debt that the City claims to have; yet this information is not included in the Report. This is a key piece of information that


________________________________

1 The Signatories reserve the right to submit comments to this City in addition to this letter.

2 Environmental Protection Agency Region 5, Unilateral Administrative Order, 1111 (Nov. 2, 2021).



would help residents of Benton Harbor understand the financial analysis in the Report. We strongly request the City make this information publicly available during the comment period and prior to a public hearing.


Hosting public hearings is standard procedure when local agencies seek public comment. Hearings give the public the opportunity to share their opinion, ask questions, and make their voices heard. They enable comments to be submitted in both a written and oral format. Not all residents may have the time or technology to submit a formal written comment and may instead choose to give comments orally, on the record. Given the complexity of this particular report, and the need for accessibility for submitting public comments, the residents should have the opportunity to submit comments orally at a public hearing. During the hearing, the City should take the time to clearly

outline the contents of the Report and accept all oral public comments. These public comments should become part of the record of comments that the City is required to review and address under Paragraph 111 of the Order before submission of the comments to EPA.


For the reasons described above, it is imperative that the City extend the public comment period by at least another 30 days, to January 2, 2022, to give the public time to review, understand, and provide meaningful comments - both written and oral - on the Report. We also strongly request that the City host a formal public hearing in advance of the due date of public comments to both: (1) further describe the contents of the Report to the public; and (2) give Benton Harbor residents an

opportunity to provide oral comments on the Report. The Signatories reserve the right to submit any additional comments and requests, as necessary.


Given the very tight deadlines and impending Thanksgiving holiday, we request a response before November 23, 2022 on these requests. Please reach out to Reverend Edward Pinkney at (269) 369-8257 with any questions, and please provide your response in writing by email.


Sincerely,


Reverend Edward Pinkney, President, Benton Harbor Community Water Council

Gwen Swanigan, Founder/CEO, S.H.A.R.P. Foundation

Dr. Donald Tynes, Public Health Director, Benton Harbor Health Center

Emma Kinnard, President & Marvin Heywood, Vice President, Fresh Start Children's Garden

Alvin Gray, President, Black is Beautiful and Save Our Children,

Blake William, President, Get Out the Vote

Elnora Gavin, We the People Michigan

People's Choice, Doris Mitchell, President


_____________________

3 Not all residents are able to submit a written comment for various reasons, such as limited access to the internet, limited written English proficiency, or simply that they prefer oral communication to written communication.


Supporting partners:

Ecology Center, Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director

Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Mona Monroe-Younis, Executive Director

Flint Rising, Nayyirah Shariff, Executive Director

For Love of Water (FLOW), Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Nicholas Leonard, Executive Director

Lawyers for Good Government, Jillian Blanchard, Director Climate Change Program & Lauren

Thomson, Staff Attorney

Michigan Environmental Council, Conan Smith, President and CEO

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Sylvia Orduño, Organizer

Natural Resources Defense Council, Cyndi Roper, Senior Policy Advocate

People's Water Board Coalition, Nicole Hill, Vice President

Safe Water Engineering, Eli Betanzo, Principal

Water You Fighting For, Melissa Mays, Founder


CC:

Debra Shore, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency

("USEPA") Region 5

Radhika Fox, Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, USEPA

Tera Fong, Director, Water Division, USEPA Region 5

Candice Bauer, Water Division, Chief, Ground Water and Drinking Water, USEPA Region 5

Robert Kaplan, Regional Counsel, USEPA Region 5

Cheryl Newton, Assistant Regional Administrator, USEPA Region 5

Alan Walts, Director, Tribal and Multi-media Program Office, USEPA Region 5

Bruno Pigott, Deputy Assistant Administrator, USEPA

Lies Clark, Director, Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, Department of

Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy ("EGLE")

Aaron B. Keatley, Chief Deputy Director, EGLE

James Clift, Deputy Director, EGLE

Eric Oswald, Director of the Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division, EGLE

Regina Strong, Environmental Justice Public Advocate, EGLE

Kristina Donaldson, Clean Water Public Advocate, EGLE

Monday, October 24, 2022

Benton Harbor Water Crisis : A One Year Retrospective

EGLE and MDHHS continue to avoid having public, transparent community meetings to explain the orgins, progress, and riskof the water crisis to residents. Although filters use was not advisable, when EGLE could not confirm Benton Harborwas meeting requirments at the water treatment plant, EGLE AND mdhhs still have not made it, unequivocally clear that residents need to continue to drink bottled water or use a filter in their home for at 6 months after lead service line replacement as recommended by the USEPA and required in the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions in all communities. Corrosion control treatment and a corrosion control study, which was EGLE's focus back in 2018, when the lead action level exceedances started, has all but disappeared from consciousness despite the fact that lead in household plumbing remains even after lead service line are replaced. This remaining lead can be an ongoing source of lead exposure, expeccially when appropriate corroosion control treatment is not used. But EGLE never revised the study to address household sources of lead. The only study completed focused on lead service lines, the last one which is expected to be removed in the next few weeks. EGLE never required Benton Harbor to send public notice to the community about the variety of violations that had been identified in those inspections, some of which go back as far as 2011, when the community should have first been notified. When they finally issued some of the information in June 2022, hidden in the back of annual water quality report, the information presented raised many more questions than it answered. EGLE still hasn't responded to a list of questions and concerns raised about poor notice about these violations that didn't get the same attention as the initial lead crisis. The ongoing lack of transparency, community engagement, and clear information about what water is safe to drink(answer:bottled water or water from a certified lead reducing filter) in this community that has spent the last year in the spot light make us wonder- what is happening in communities that we don't know are having a water crisis? If this is what happens when all eyes are on EGLE, what assurance do we have that EGLE is doing their job in the rest of Michigan communities? We are grateful that Benton Harbor is finally getting the attention it deserves. We hope we can ride the momentum of Benton Harbor Community Water Council in getting the lead serves lines out to making the additional change EGLE needs to do right by this community. (1) First and most urgently EGLE and MDHHS need to provide clear information that residents should continue to use bottled water or filters 6 months after lead service line are removed. (2) Real public meeting that engage the community invite the media, and educate on what has happened in Benton Harbor and what is yet to come, especially with the consolidation report that is slated to be released in October. (3)EGLE needs to respond to questions about the water treatment process providing transparent information that demonstrates that the water treatment plant is reliably in compliance with all SDWA requirements. (4)EGLE should engage with concerned residents and experts transparently and with data. Assurances they are doing "everything they can". (5 Real public notice about the extent of violations at the water treatment plant and what this means. presented in plain language, not regulatory jargon that assure residents. They would have been informed in a timely manner if this had been a real emergency. There was a real emergency and EGLE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Probe: Prison officers deliver drugs to inmates: Lucrative scheme is leading to major rise in overdoses

Paul Egan at the Free Press published this expose on staff smuggling

drugs into MDOC causing overdose deaths to skyrocket.


You can see a video with a whistle blowing family member here:

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2022/10/05/michigan-prison-drug-smuggling-corrections-officers/7393070001/


Probe: Prison officers deliver drugs to inmates: Lucrative scheme is

leading to major rise in overdoses

Egan, Paul 

Detroit Free Press 6 Oct 2022 

LANSING − State prison drug overdoses have skyrocketed during the

pandemic, and there is strong and growing evidence that points to

corrections officers or other prison staff as significant suppliers.

Last year, 252 state prisoners overdosed on drugs — nearly quadruple the

number in 2019.

That's despite the fact in-person prison visits — long pointed to by

Michigan Department of Corrections officials as a major source of

smuggled drugs — were halted in most of 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread

of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic started, officials took steps to

eliminate prison mail as an illicit source.

Officials acknowledge that removing visits and mail as major sources of

prison drugs leaves only two possibilities — drugs coming "over the

fence" by methods such as packages dropped by drones or drug-filled

basketballs thrown into prison yards; and drugs smuggled in by

corrections officers, or other staff or contractors.

A monthslong Free Press investigation found:

Recent state and federal investigations point to prison officers as

participating in lucrative schemes to deliver drugs to inmates;

It is relatively easy for officers to bring drugs inside prison, partly

because of a significant weakness in the way the department staffs the

"gate" where employees enter prisons, and partly because already weak

gate policies are frequently ignored or undermined by supervisors;

The Michigan State Police, the outside agency that most frequently

investigates prison drug smuggling and overdose deaths, defers to

Michigan Department of Corrections officials in the handling and

processing of evidence, frequently describing its role as "assisting"

prison officials, rather than investigating them.

Prison personnel and Freedom of Information Act policies both obscure

and contribute to the scope of the problem by shielding employee

discipline records from public scrutiny.

"They keep coming up with these explanations that don't make any sense,

and frankly, it's offensive," said Solomon Radner, a Southfield attorney

whose 2019 lawsuit over a prisoner's drug overdose death at Lakeland

Correctional Facility in Coldwater, which accuses some prison officials

of complicity in drug trafficking, was recently revived by a federal

appeals court.

"The reality of this is, the only way they're (drugs) getting in is with

certain guards allowing it in. If they were serious about not letting it

in, it wouldn't get in."

Overdoses increased as outside contact fell

Late in 2017, the department began photocopying all mail not sent from

law offices before prisoners received it as a way of stopping the

delivery of drugs that can be distributed through clear plastic strips

and even hidden behind stamps. Prison visits were banned completely for

a solid year, from March 2020 until March 2021. When visits resumed,

they were through plexiglass until September of last year. Though

contact visits are again permitted, they are under continued

restrictions, with only one embrace allowed at the start of the visit

and another at the end.

Meanwhile, the number of prison overdoses more than doubled in 2020, to

136 from 64 in 2019, records show. In 2021, overdoses nearly doubled

again to 252.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for Department of Corrections Director Heidi

Washington, said the increased overdoses during the pandemic don't

necessarily point to employees as a primary source; but he said he does

see a connection with the more than $27 million in federal stimulus

funds state prisoners received from the federal government. Also, there

has been a big increase in "fake" legal mail, which is not subject to

being photocopied, and increased prison use of Narcan, the opioid

overdose drug, with each dose generally counted as an overdose, even if

officials later learned the unconscious prisoner was in fact suffering

from low blood sugar, not an overdose, he said.

"The smuggling of contraband, in all its forms, is a threat to our

facilities and a danger to prisoners and staff and is taken with the

utmost seriousness," Gautz said. "Anyone who comes into our prisons

presents the potential for contraband introduction and we are constantly

assessing all vulnerabilities."

Corrections officers who reach the top of the pay scale are paid about

$60,000 a year, not counting overtime. But the strong demand for drugs

inside prison walls, combined with limited supply, means they can make

thousands more through smuggling.

Thomas Daugherty, 47, worked as a corrections officer at Parnall

Correctional Facility near Jackson until December 2021, when he was

caught smuggling 150 strips of suboxone — a drug used to treat opioid

withdrawal that is frequently abused as a painkiller — to an inmate.

Daugherty, who pleaded guilty to a five-year felony in July and is

expected to be sentenced Oct. 25, told investigators he was paid $5,000

per delivery and had made five or six deliveries in the six months prior

to his arrest, according to Michigan State Police records the Free Press

obtained through the state Freedom of Information Act.

A federal grand jury on April 6 indicted Brandon Keith McGaffigan, 30,

of Flint, who was a corrections officer at Thumb Correctional Facility

in Lapeer when he allegedly possessed methamphetamine, cocaine and

heroin with the intention of selling the illegal drugs inside the

prison, in January.

But state and federal smuggling charges against prison employees are

relatively rare. Prison employees suspected of smuggling drugs or other

contraband are issued "stop orders" intended to prevent them from

working inside the system again. Sometimes, local prosecutors decline to

bring charges, Gautz said.

Both prisoners and officers who have come forward with information about

drug smuggling by prison staff have said they quickly became targets for

retaliation.

When Ventron Lott was found dead at Macomb Correctional Facility on Dec.

9, 2021, Lott's mother, Joan Johnson, thought his death resulted from a

seizure. Her son had just called her to tell her he was not receiving

his required anti-seizure medication, she said. Before she could follow

up on that, a prison official called to tell her Lott was dead.

A few weeks later, Johnson received a phone call from another Macomb

prisoner, Marshall Forrest. He told Johnson her son, who was housed in

the prison's residential treatment facility, died from an overdose. The

drugs, Forrest said, were supplied by the prisoner who bunked with Lott,

who in turn received the drugs from a corrections officer.

Johnson then obtained her son's autopsy report and was shocked to learn

he died from an overdose of fentanyl and heroin. Prison officials never

told her that, she said.

Gautz said prison officials often don't know the cause when they inform

family members of a prisoner's death.

Forrest, 60, who is serving a life sentence for a 1998 murder in Berrien

County, has since written a series of letters, backed by a sworn

affidavit, to Johnson and to investigators with the MSP, the U.S.

Attorney's Office and others. Forrest alleges widespread prison drug

dealing, controlled by gangs and certain prison officers, and the use of

smuggled cellphones and mobile platforms such as Cash App to make and

receive payments.

Forrest, who in some of the letters identifies corrections officers by

name, said he was stabbed in the face in an April 4 chow hall prisoner

attack he believes was orchestrated by prison staff.

"Not one MDOC staff of the four present inside the kitchen stopped this

prisoner ... from continuing on with stabbing me," Forrest said in a

sworn and notarized July 6 affidavit Forrest provided to the Free Press.

Gautz denied Forrest is being harassed and said prison video shows

officers came to his aid within five to 10 seconds.

A Free Press reporter met with Forrest for two hours at Earnest C.

Brooks Correctional Facility near Muskegon.

"I want to speak out. I almost lost my life already. I might get lucky

and someone is going to look at this," said Forrest, whose cell at

Macomb Correctional Facility was across from Lott's.

Forrest said Lott approached him on the night of his overdose, looking

sick and disheveled.

Lott said he'd snorted drugs given to him by the prisoner he bunked

with. Lott thought he was snorting Wellbutrin — a prescription

anti-depressant — but later learned he was given a mix of heroin and

fentanyl. Lott also named a corrections officer he said gave the drugs

to the prisoner he bunked with, Forrest said. The Free Press is not

naming the officer, pending further verification.

Lott gave Forrest his mother's phone number and asked him to contact her

if anything happened to him, he said.

Forrest said he did not place that call for about five weeks because he

felt intimidated by corrections officers who he said prevented him from

speaking to Michigan State Police officers investigating Lott's death.

He said he decided to come forward once he concluded the incident was

going to be swept under the rug.

He said he was interviewed by an MSP investigator in March, but has had

no follow-up.

Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for the MSP, would neither confirm nor deny

whether an investigation into Forrest's allegations is underway.

Since meeting with the Free Press, "I am being harassed continually,"

Forrest wrote in a Sept. 22 email from prison.

Officers, too, have complained of harassment after speaking out about

suspected drug dealing by prison staff.

Brent Rohrig was a resident unit manager at the G. Robert Cotton

Correctional Facility near Jackson when he spoke up about a corrections

officer he suspected was smuggling heroin to prisoners.

The Corrections Department opened an investigation — into Rohrig,

alleging he had misused the email system. The internal affairs

investigator the department assigned to comb through Rohrig's emails was

the ex-wife of the officer he accused of smuggling. Rohrig said that

move endangered both him and the prisoners who had confided in him about

the illegal drugs.

The department fired Rohrig in 2017, while the other officer remained on

the job. Only months later, after Rohrig went public, did the department

fire the officer, accusing him of smuggling unspecified contraband,

overfamiliarity with prisoners, and "conduct unbecoming" a corrections

officer. He was never criminally charged.

In 2018, a civil service hearing officer blasted the department and

ordered Rohrig reinstated with back pay, saying the trumped-up

allegations against him were "the essence of disparate, arbitrary,

disproportionate discipline."

Rohrig also sued the department and received a $50,000 settlement and

was allowed to retire early, said his Detroit attorney, Jonathan Marko.

Rohrig told the Free Press that after his firing and reinstatement

received media attention, he heard from numerous prison employees who

felt the department had retaliated against them for speaking out about

prison issues.

Lax front gate practices

How do officers bring drugs into prisons, since they pass through metal

detectors and are subject to inspection of their bags and random

pat-downs when they arrive for work?

Three current or former corrections officers assigned to three different

prisons, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of prison

security issues, told the Free Press corrupt officers can take advantage

of a significant and long-standing weakness in the way the gate is

staffed.

Though an officer is stationed at the gate to check bags and perform

random pat-downs for more than 16 hours out of every day, many

facilities do not assign a full-time gate officer during "third shift,"

which is typically from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Officers are subject to search

upon arrival for that shift, but once the shift begins, until near the

end of the shift, only the "bubble officer" — so named because he or she

typically works inside a compartment shielded by transparent glass or

plastic — is present at the gate. That officer, who unlike the gate

officer actually controls the opening of the gate, can attempt to view

the inside of an officer's bag through the window but can't perform

pat-downs because of standing instructions not to leave the bubble, the

sources said. Officers who leave the prison to grab lunch or go to their

vehicles during a break, midway through that third shift, can be

confident they are unlikely to be subjected to a pat-down upon their

return, the sources said.

Gautz said it is prison policy for an officer to be called to the gate

whenever an employee enters. He could not say whether that policy is

always followed.

Earl Booth, a corrections officer at the Charles E. Egeler Reception and

Guidance Center near Jackson, has worked frequently at the front gate,

including more than two years as the full-time front gate officer,

between 2013 and 2015. Booth says a minority of supervisors repeatedly

violate front gate security rules. Officers rightfully fear retaliation

if they try to insist the rules be followed, he said.

Between 2013 and 2017, Booth documented and reported at least 10

incidents in which five sergeants and lieutenants tried to enter the

prison in violation of MDOC rules. Most involved supervisors who refused

to take off their belts or empty their pockets before passing through

the metal detector, instead just setting off the detector and demanding

a pat-down.

Booth has complained in writing, not only about the supervisors who

violated gate policy, but about the supervisors of the supervisors, for

failing to investigate the incidents and impose discipline. Nearly every

supervisor Booth has complained about has since been promoted, records

show.

Booth meanwhile, who had no discipline on his record from when he joined

the department in 2000 until 2012, when his harassment complaint against

a lieutenant was upheld, has been subjected to a series of

investigations and discipline he believes are retaliatory.

In 2017, Booth reported a different lieutenant for screaming at him to

open the gate, when there was no gate officer present and Booth was

working in the bubble; and for repeatedly failing to present his

identification card at the gate, as required. Records Booth obtained

through FOIA show a captain then tipped off the lieutenant about Booth's

complaint. Booth's complaint was not investigated, but the lieutenant

brought his own complaint against Booth for doodling on a piece of paper

while working. Booth was found guilty of three work rule violations,

including dereliction of duty, and suspended for three days without pay.

Booth later obtained records that show that in 2019, the captain who

tipped off the lieutenant was twice caught trying to enter the facility

with his cellphone. That's a serious infraction that can bring

discipline up to and including dismissal. But that captain, who by 2019

had been promoted to inspector and has since been promoted again to a

position in internal affairs, received only a written reprimand for the

first offense and a one-day suspension for the second offense, records

show.

Gautz said those punishments are standard for someone with no discipline

on their record. "Mistakes happen; we understand that," he said.

Officials do not believe the lieutenant screamed at Booth, and the

captain was notifying the officer in charge of the shift, who happened

to be the lieutenant, that a front gate incident had occurred, not

intentionally tipping anyone off, he said. Gautz declined to comment on

the other incidents Booth cited.

"Staff are flat-out intimidated and afraid to report arrogant and

privileged supervisors that feel they can do whatever they want, and

burn us when we report them," said Booth, who in January, after he was

contacted and interviewed by the Free Press, sued the department in

federal court over discipline-related issues.

The Free Press has reviewed documentation related to all of the

incidents Booth complained about, but is not naming the supervisors,

partly because Booth is not accusing those supervisors of smuggling

drugs or other contraband. Still, Booth said such disregard for the

rules — and reprisals against those willing to enforce the rules —

undermines overall security.

"People are afraid to report it — they're afraid to do anything," Booth

said. "That's how stuff gets in."

Department investigates itself

When overdose deaths or discoveries of significant amounts of smuggled

drugs inside the prisons result in the police being called, Corrections

Department officials and employees are not treated as potential

suspects. Instead, they help run the investigation.

On Aug. 26, a sharp-eyed officer noticed several packages attached to a

trash compactor being delivered to Lakeland by Waste Management Inc.,

the prison's trash contractor. The packages contained marijuana,

tobacco, suboxone and three cellphones and chargers. In an Aug. 31 email

to the Free Press, MSP Detective Sgt. Matthew Berry described the

department's role as "assisting the Michigan Department of Corrections

with an investigation" of the incident.

That's despite the fact officials at Lakeland specifically, and the

Michigan Department of Corrections more generally, had already been

publicly accused of involvement in drug smuggling at Lakeland, located

in Coldwater in south-central Michigan, in a 2019 federal lawsuit

related to the overdose death of 21-year-old Lakeland prisoner Seth

Zakora. Although that suit, which initially included allegations against

the MSP, had been dismissed in 2021, the allegations against some

Lakeland prison officials had been revived just two weeks earlier, by

the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a development that had been

publicized in the Free Press.

Also, there were earlier drug smuggling incidents involving Waste

Management trucks both before and after the MSP investigation into

another drug overdose death at Lakeland — that of 49-year-old prisoner

Charles Foresi on Jan. 1 of this year, according to an MDOC spokesman

and records the Free Press obtained using FOIA.

Despite all of that, Gautz said Aug. 31 that prison officials do not

believe the waste hauling company is involved in the smuggling.

Given the logistical difficulties of arranging such a delivery, the

involvement of someone inside the prison who is not a prisoner cannot be

ruled out.

Yet giving Corrections Department officials significant roles in such

investigations is standard MSP practice.

MSP's Berry, who also investigated Foresi's death, wrote in a Feb. 2

report that an unauthorized cellphone discovered inside the prison

during the death investigation "was given to the MDOC intelligence unit

to be forensically examined," and said in a Jan. 12 report that prison

officials were "going through video evidence, phone calls, and JPay

(prisoner email) records."

Banner said her agency assists the Corrections Department because its

criminal investigation capabilities are limited.

"MSP is utilized to investigate and present the case to the prosecutor,"

she said. "Our ability to work cooperatively together in the

investigation increases both the effectiveness and timeliness of

investigations."

While the MSP and Corrections Department work closely on investigating

potential criminal wrongdoing inside the prison system, the transparency

each provides related to transgressions by their own employees is vastly

different.

When a state trooper is investigated by internal affairs or gets fired,

the Free Press can use FOIA to obtain reports of interviews and other

actions related to the internal affairs investigation, as well as

records documenting why the trooper was fired.

Those records are not available from the Corrections Department, making

the scope of actual or suspected drug trafficking by its employees

difficult to track.

The department cites a section of state law that declares "personnel

records" exempt from FOIA in refusing to release records of internal

affairs investigations, even in cases where the investigations uphold

accusations of wrongdoing. The department takes that position even

though internal affairs is an entirely different section of the

department from human resources and maintains its own records separate

from personnel files.

Last year, the department also used the "personnel files" exemption to

refuse to release copies of "stop orders" banning suspended or fired

corrections officers from entering state prisons, even though "stop

orders" are a form of semi-public notices, in which the names and photos

of employees are circulated to the front gate, about a dozen prison

officials, and even sometimes officials at neighboring prisons, to alert

everyone to bar entry.

Johnson, who almost didn't learn her son died from a prison overdose,

said she wonders how many other moms are similarly kept in the dark.

"None of it makes sense," she said.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on

Twitter @paulegan4. 


Copyright 2022 - DETROIT FREE PRESS - All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 10, 2022

The long-lasting Benton Harbor water crisis has finally resulted in a victory for the Benton Harbor Community Water Council

by the Benton Harbor Community Water Council

Since the Benton Harbor water crisis began in 2018, Benton Harbor has been ground zero for lead in drinking water.  Benton Harbor is a majority Black city long burdened by significant poverty and legacy pollution as an environmental justice sacrifice zone in the interest of the local manufacturing corporations, i.e., Whirlpool.

On top of such socioeconomic and environmental challenges, the avoidable water crisis in Benton Harbor was protracted because the Benton Harbor Community Water Council (BHCWC), along with voices of residents, were dismissed and ignored while our drinking water was poisoned with lead, city-wide. 

The city schedule for water sampling for lead was non-compliant with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) for over 6 cycles, and crucial data points from water samples showed extremely high lead. This extremely important information was hidden from public knowledge in order to make Benton Harbor water appear to be in compliance with the state and national LCR.

In order to navigate the water crisis, the BHCWC became intimately knowledgeable about the LCR regulations. The council also educated the public.  Now, the council and many residents understand the limitations of the LCR from a public health standpoint, and are able to identify necessary LCR policy changes.  

BHCWC wants to share these lessons learned for the benefit of the greater good.  

It's been over 3 years since the BHCWC and a group of 21 community and environmental organizations filed petitions for the US-EPA to intervene in Benton Harbor after more than three years of high lead contamination. The 9,700 residents of this majority black, low-income community, where the majority of the residents get their water through a lead service line, had 90 percentile lead levels ranging from 22 to 32, with some individual lead results at nearly 900ppb, from 2018 through 2021. The Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy* (EGLE) did the minimum possible to inform this community about the water crisis.

This is a huge win for the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, led by Rev. Edward Pinkney, and for the residents of Benton Harbor. It has been just over one year since the petition was filed. The petition got the Governor moving since it’s an election year. We are anticipating very soon an announcement that all lead service lines have been replaced.

In the midst of this success, the crisis also revealed alarming information over the past year. We learned that despite their name change, EGLE has hardly learned any lessons from the Flint Water Crisis. They failed to take swift and comprehensive action to educate this environmental justice community on the risk and prevalence of lead, and hardly did anything to ensure safe water was available for all residents.  

We learned that regular mandatory water plant inspections have been turning up significant treatment deficiencies for years that prevented the water utility, EGLE, and EPA from being able to confirm whether treatment requirements were being met at the treatment plant. It took EGLE over 6 months to produce data to confirm that treatment processes were meeting all requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act/Surface Water Treatment Rules despite them stating the water was safe to drink in November of 2021.

EGLE and Michigan Dept. of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) continue to avoid having public, transparent community meetings to explain the origins, progress, and risk of the water crisis to residents of Benton Harbor.

Using filters was not advised by BHCWC early on since filters hide bacteria and the water plant was not in compliance (water contained bacteria).  And, EGLE could not confirm Benton Harbor was meeting requirements at the water treatment plant, 

As of now, EGLE and MDHHS are not saying what residents need to know:  It should be made unequivocally clear that residents need to continue to drink bottled water or use a filter in their home for at least 6 months after lead service line replacement. This is recommended by the US-EPA and required in the Lead and Copper Rule Revision in all municipalities.

It is believed that Gov. Whitmer is not happy that a black man, Rev. Edward Pinkney, blew the whistle on her. We suspect she is planning an attack on Pinkney and the BHCWC. We will need your help. Our suspicion is based on a recent action of Whitmer’s:  She ordered state police to come to Pinkney’s house to accuse him of selling water to South Bend.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth and is, frankly, laughable.

*Formerly The Michigan Dept. of Environment