District Attorney John Chisholm: Criminal investigation continues into MHD lead abatement programs

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said Tuesday, April 23 the criminal investigation into the Milwaukee Health Department was ongoing.

Chisholm issued a letter reassuring city officials that the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office continued to look into how the MHD handled the city's lead crisis.

Chisholm's letter was sent to Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan, and read as follows:

"This letter is in response to your inquiry of April 22, 2019, regarding an investigation into lead abatement programs administered by the City of Milwaukee Health Department."

"In recognition of the serious nature of this matter, and as has been previously indicated publicly, my office and the State of Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation commenced a joint investigation several months ago, which continues at this time. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, my office will report to the Milwaukee Common Council and the public our findings and any appropriate next steps."

Officials with the Freshwater For Life Action Coalition and Get The Lead Out Coalition issued this statement:

"Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) & Get The Lead Out Coalition (GTLO) call on Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to advance efforts to support the call for an investigation of the Milwaukee Health Department, specially the lead abatement program by Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee Robert Donovan.

Last week FLAC/GLTO met with District Attorney Chisholm and his investigators as a follow up to our call to investigate the Health Department last year.

"We left the meeting assured that the DA is still reviewing this matter", said Robert Miranda, Spokesperson for the Freshwater For Life Action Coalition.

It is critical that trust is restored in our public officials as we tackle this public health issue that continues to put Milwaukee residents at risk. Too much harm has been done in recent years to simply count on the assurances of city leaders. We believe a rigorous investigation would be a critical step forward in repairing this harm."

A news release from Freshwater For Life Action Coalition included a copy of a letter sent by Ashanti Hamilton and Bob Donovan to Chisholm seeking an update on the investigation.

The letter from Hamilton and Donovan read, in part:

"All the council members involved in this process pursued it in the hope that clear culpability would be established and, as appropriate, punishment brought. We believed this was the only way to assure the public that those responsible were held accountable and appropriate measures were taken to prevent their recurrence. While we continue to wait for an audit of the Health Department to begin in the coming weeks, we also thought it prudent to contact you and ask if there were any circumstances that you believe could rise to the level of an offense prosecutable by your office."

The investigation involves the Wisconsin Department of Justice -- and relates to MHD's program aimed at preventing lead poisoning in children. News broke that the Milwaukee Health Department was not properly following up with families whose children had been exposed to lead in paint and drinking water. Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned amid the scandal.

It's unclear when a charging decision could be made.