The investigation over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan is ongoing, with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announcing felony charges against two new individuals today (June 14) and additional charges for four others.
The predominantly Black city of nearly 100,000 saw toxic levels of lead in its water back in 2014 as a result of the city and state deciding to switch its drinking water source. The water is still not 100 percent safe to drink. But the lead wasn’t the only issue with the water after the switch: A Legionnaire’s disease outbreak overtook Genesee County, where Flint sits, and killed 12 people in 2015 and 2016. Legionnaire’s is an extreme form of pneumonia caused by bacteria and afflicted—but didn’t kill—another 79 people.
Nick Lyon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), is being charged with two felonies: misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter for the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, one of the 12 who died of Legionnaire’s disease during the outbreak. Lyon is the highest-ranking official to face charges in the investigation.
This is what Schuette had to say about Lyon on Twitter:
Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of citizens of Flint.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
After allegedly being informed of the growing legionella situation in Flint, Nick Lyon failed to inform the public of this health threat.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
This threat cost the life of Robert Skidmore.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
The MDHHS’s chief medical executive, Eden Wells, is also facing a felony charge for obstruction of justice and a misdemeanor for lying to a peace officer. She allegedly provided false testimony to a special agent and threatened to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if the partnership didn’t stop investigating the Legionnaire’s outbreak in Flint. Schuette said this about her on Twitter:
Ms. Wells, as the Chief Medical Officer of Michigan, similarly failed to protect the health and safety of citizens of Flint.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
During the investigation of the Flint Water Crisis, Wells allegedly attempted to withhold funding for programs designed to help victims.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
Ms. Wells then allegedly lied to an investigator about material facts related to the investigation.— A.G. Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 14, 2017
The four individuals for whom the state is adding charges include Stephen Busch, a water supervisor for the state’s department of environmental quality; Liane Shekter-Smith, former chief of drinking water and municipal assistance at the department; Howard Croft, previously the director of the Flint Department of Public Works; and Darnell Earley, the former emergency manager for the City of Flint.
The state had already filed charges against these individuals, but Schuette is now giving the four an additional felony charge of involuntary manslaughter related to Skidmore’s death. “Our charge is to determine what laws, if any, were broken,” Schuette wrote on Twitter. “And if so, to hold violators responsible. I owe that to the families of Flint.”
Lyon’s charges are most explicit in the warrant packet the attorney general’s office provided online: It alleges that the MDHHS director knew about the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak by at least January 2015 but failed to notify the public until a year later. He can face up to 15 years for this crime.
“At that time, Defendant [Lyon] knew that Legionnaires’ disease was deadly and that, if no mitigating steps were taken, the outbreak was likely to occur again,” the document goes on. Lyon later said, per the warrant, that “he can’t save everyone” and that “everyone has to die of something.”
Director Lyon and Dr. Eden Wells, like every other person who has been charged with a crime by Bill Schuette, are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some state employees were charged over a year ago and have been suspended from work since that time. They still have not had their day in court. That is not justice for Flint nor for those who have been charged. Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint’s recovery. They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS.
Residents and activists have been vocal in that they want to see Snyder face charges too as many find him responsible behind the lead-tainted water. Schuette said at the press conference today that investigators have attempted to interview Snyder on his role in the manmade disaster, but they have been unsuccessful.
“We only file criminal charges when evidence of probable cause to commit a crime has been established,” he said.
Schuette launched this criminal probe in January 2016 after the state requested that former President Barack Obama declare a state of emergency regarding the dangerous lead levels in Flint’s water supply. Now, the case is entering a new phase, as Schuette explained in the press conference: prosecution.
Watch vieo of Schuette’s press conference today below.