Regional authority spying on peaceful opponents of water shutoffs in Detroit

The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is spying on peaceful opponents of water shutoffs in Detroit and passing along counter-intelligence to Wayne State University, Motor City Muckraker has confirmed. 

The GLWA, a tax-funded authority that provides water and sewage services to metro Detroit, has hired a “security specialist and investigator” who has been tracking the whereabouts and activities of people opposed to shutting off water to struggling Detroiters who are unable to pay their bills.

In an email to Wayne State University Police Chief Anthony Holt, the investigator warns of potential “threats” today (Wednesday) involving a community meeting to discuss “the disastrous health impacts of Detroit’s mass water shutoffs.”

“Please be advised that while gathering intelligence for threats to GLWA on social media, we came across information that a protest is planned in your jurisdiction on July 26, 2017, at the Law School auditorium,” the investigator, Sharhonda Griffin, wrote to the police chief.

Truth is, the meeting is not a protest. It’s a “community gathering” at Wayne State University’s Law School and is sponsored by the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, which promotes equality through education.

“They completely mislabeled this event,” said Peter Hammer, director of the Damon J. Keith Center. “This is a community discussion about an important public policy question.”

The community discussion comes hours after researchers at Henry Ford Global Health Initiative revealed that people who live on blocks affected by water shutoffs were 1.55 times more likely to be diagnosed with a water-associated illness. A press conference on the study was held at Wayne State University’s Law School on Wednesday afternoon.

Hammer said he contacted Chief Holt to assure him there was no threat.

“After I clarified, he said he knew there was no security concern,” Hammer said. “He’s a standup guy.”

Hammer said it was “creepy” to learn he was the subject of an investigation for spreading the word about the widespread dangers of water shutoffs.

“Law enforcement has no reason to believe we are a security threat,” Hammer told me.

The city has shut off water to more than 80,000 homes since 2013, raising serious health and humanitarian concerns.

GLWA responded in a written statement:

“The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is Michigan’s largest drinking water provider, and as such has standard protocols in place to help protect its drinking water supply from security threats, which could lead to serious public health and safety issues.

Part of our routine security checks include monitoring social media for any threats to the Authority and the regional drinking water system. Ms. Griffin was simply sharing information that was already public with Wayne State University for awareness. Our mission has been, and continues to be, to ensure public health and safety through the delivery of safe, reliable water. We do not participate in, or take positions on, protests or political issues, and we do not explicitly monitor any groups.”

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.