Five government officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday for their participation in the Flint water crisis and the death of an 85-year-old resident. According to the Michigan attorney general’s office, at least 50 criminal charges have been filed against 15 state and local officials involved in the Flint water crisis.
Agreeing to temporarily switch from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River in April 2014, residents in the city of Flint immediately noticed their tap water appeared cloudy while emitting a pungent odor. After testing the water supply on August 14, 2014, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) discovered the water tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria, also known as E. coli. Although the city issued several boil advisories to kill the bacteria, the CDC has found that heating or boiling water only increases the lead concentration in the water.
After a governor-appointed emergency manager switched Flint’s water supply in order to save some money, state officials failed to use anti-corrosives to treat the water, which caused lead from the pipes to contaminate the water. In addition to lead contamination, increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaire’s disease) also spread throughout the population.
Despite the fact that Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was aware of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak by January 2015, he refused assistance from the CDC while allegedly obstructing scientific investigations linking the outbreak to Flint’s new water source. According to court documents, Lyon spoke of the outbreak, saying “[we] can’t save everyone,” and “everyone has to die of something.”
In June 2015, Robert Skidmore, 85, was admitted to McClaren Flint hospital with symptoms consistent with pneumonia. Six months later, Skidmore died at home while continuing to use the tainted water.
On Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Lyon and four other officials with involuntary manslaughter for their responsibility in Skidmore’s death. Stephen Busch, a water supervisor for the MDEQ; Darnell Earley, a state-appointed emergency manager for Flint; Howard Croft, former director of the city’s public works department; and Liane Shekter-Smith, chief of the state’s Office of Drinking Water, were charged with involuntary manslaughter along with Lyon, who also faces a felony count of misconduct in office.
The other officials also face additional charges, including Early who has previously been charged with false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office, and willful neglect of duty in office. Croft was charged with false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses as well for his part in prolonging the disaster.
Although not accused of manslaughter, Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, was charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator. Since 2016, Schuette’s office has filed at least 50 criminal charges against 15 government officials responsible for either causing or prolonging the Flint water crisis.
“The health crisis in Flint has created a trust crisis for Michigan government, exposing a serious lack of confidence in leaders who accept responsibility and solve problems,” stated Schuette.
As residents continue to call for the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for his numerous failures involving the Flint water crisis, Schuette confirmed that no criminal charges have been filed against the governor at this time.