Five city and state officials of Flint, Mich., have received felony charges of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the Flint water crisis.
Nick Lyon, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services director; Stephen Busch, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water supervisor; Howard Croft, former director of Flint’s Department of Public Works; Darnell Earley, Flint’s former emergency manager; and Liane Shekter-Smith, former chief of Michigan’s Office of Drinking Water, all face involuntary manslaughter.
In addition, Lyon, Busch and Shekter-Smith face misconduct in office — another felony charge. Earley and Croft both face charges of false pretenses as well, also a felony.
The state’s Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer, a felony and a misdemeanor, respectively.
An investigative report from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette documents additional charges against city and state officials.
Charges stem from a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Genesee County, where Flint is located, that led to 12 deaths after the city switched its water source to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014.
“The Flint water crisis was and is a failure of leadership,” the attorney general’s report says.
Further: “A cause of the breakdown in state governmental management was a fixation, a preoccupation, with data, finances and costs, instead of placing the health, safety and welfare of citizens first. For $200 per day, an anti-corrosive treatment added to the water at the Flint Water Treatment Plant would have effectively coated the water pipes and prevented the leaching of lead into the water.”
According to court documents filed on Tuesday, “Defendant Lyon exhibited gross negligence when he failed to alert the public about the deadly outbreak and by taking steps to suppress information illustrating obvious and apparent harms that were likely to result in serious injury. Defendant Lyon willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak.”
Lyon allegedly knew about the outbreak for a year and did not notify the public, the documents state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February suggested a link between Flint switching its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River and a county-wide Legionnaires’ outbreak. A connection was found between bacteria found at McLaren-Flint hospital and at least two cases of Legionnaires’.
One man, 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, is named in the lawsuit. He died of Legionnaires’ disease in 2015.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Flint is 56.6 percent Black, 35.7 percent white, 3.9 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent two or more races and less than 1 percent both American Indian and Asian. The median household income is $24,862, and 41.2 percent of residents live in poverty.
While other cities across America have faced lead contamination problems, which was the focal point of the investigation until the link between the water and Legionnaires’ was discovered, Flint officials made deliberate decisions that endangered their residents, according to AG Schuette’s report:
“Certainly, other older cities and towns in the nation may have lead pipes and lead fixtures as part of their water system. But the difference in Flint is that decisions were made to NOT add an anti-corrosive treatment to prevent leaching of lead from the pipes into the water system. Here in Flint, allegations are that people altered lead level figures and falsified reports.”
Gov. Rick Snyder issued a statement of support for the officials who received charges.
“Nick Lyon has been a strong leader at the Department of Health and Human Services for the past several years and remains completely committed to Flint’s recovery,” he said. “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.”
Snyder has not yet been charged with any involvement in the crisis — but given this week’s additional slew of charges, the possibility remains open.
“We only file criminal charges when evidence of probable cause to commit a crime has been established, and we are not filing charges at this time,” Schuette said of the idea.