March 26, 2016 -- by Jim Neff







Let me pose a hypothetical situation and then ask some hypothetical questions. This will all relate to an under reported incident within the scope of the Flint water crisis, but it will take some time to get there.


For the sake of this discussion, let's assume you have a collection of something in one room of your house. It could be anything – guitars, figurines, fishing rods, bowling trophies, dishes, historical photos – whatever. Also in the room is a television set; not the best one in the house, but usable.


Then let's assume someone breaks into your house, goes directly to the room with your collection (bypassing every other room in the house), takes the time to scatter your collection all over the floor but only steals that spare TV, and then exits your house leaving everything else untouched.


Given this scenario, you might have some questions. How did the thief get in and out of your locked house without leaving any indications of a break-in? Why did the thief want only that specific TV? How did the thief know that specific TV was located in that specific room? If all the thief wanted was that TV, why take the time to scatter the collection all over the floor?

So, you call the police and they investigate. When they ask if anything from your collection is missing, do you tell them you don't know what was in your collection so you don't know if anything is missing? Or, do you know precisely what is in your collection and can detail the missing item(s)?


How does this hypothetical exercise relate to Flint? Well, on December 28, 2015 it was discovered that there had been a break-in at the Flint City Hall. Police said one specific office was targeted and no other offices were disturbed. The only item taken was a television set.


Several reports noted that there were file cabinets in the office and the contents had been scattered all over the floor. “Flint Police Chief James Tolbert said investigators were working to discover if any documents connected to the city's water system were taken.” Hampering the investigation was the fact that the office in question had no video surveillance camera and several other cameras in the complex were not in working order. (


Nothing much happened in the investigation, but WJRT-TV reported new developments on January, 16, 2016. “We have learned it happened in an office used by the former public works director, who resigned during the city's ongoing water emergency...It happened in the middle of the city's municipal building complex...On a white board above some files, there are notes with reminders to call the DEQ, or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality...there appear to be documents related to the city's water system in that office.” At that time, city officials were “not sure if anything else was taken from hanging files or standing storage cabinets.” (


If you piece together the story at that time, it goes like this. A thief somehow knew that a specific office in the Flint City Hall contained the specific model television he wanted. The thief knew the surveillance camera in that one office was inoperative. It was just a coincidence that this particular office contained files linked to the emerging Flint water crisis. The thief then got into City Hall, made it past the cameras that were working, entered the office, took the time to scatter the contents of the cabinets (just for fun), grabbed the television, walked back out of the building, and left no clues or fingerprints behind. When police investigated no one knew what files had been in the office, so no one knew if any files had been stolen.


Now compare this with your own scenario. You may not be a CSI, but does this all seem plausible to you? Strange, eh?

During the course of this investigation the police chief was relieved of his duties by the new incoming mayor. He had been appointed in 2013 by state emergency manager Darnell Earley. No one is suggesting that there was anything fishy going on, but with a new administration it was a chance for a fresh perspective.



Now fast forward to late last week. The new police chief, Tim Johnson, observed: “It's too suspicious that there was a break-in where important documents were kept, just as investigations began heating up and decision makers were beginning to be held accountable. It was definitely an inside job...It was somebody that had knowledge of those documents that really wanted to keep them out of the right hands, out of the hands of someone who was going to tell the real story of what's going on with Flint water."

One thing that stood out to the new chief was a simple thing that had been overlooked to this point: “The power cord (to the TV) wasn't even taken. The average drug user knows that you'd need the power cord to be able to pawn it."


In other words, this master thief who was so brilliant that he could identify a specific TV in a specific office, such a genius that he could elude detection by surveillance cameras, such a burglary wizard that he left no clues or fingerprints behind, this brainiac did not realize a TV needs a power cord. Hard to fathom, right?



Perhaps the main question any CSI person might ask would be, “Who would benefit from having water files disappear?” The break-in remains under investigation by Flint and state police. Realistically, this is a case that will probably never be solved. It is just one more strange aspect of the entire Flint water boondoggle.


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and

John Auchter
MLive Media Group
Mar 25, 2016