Manslaughter charge sought against top Michigan medical executive in Flint water crisis

Prosecutors are going to file an involuntary manslaughter charge.

FLINT, MICH. - New charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office are being sought against the state’s top medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, in connection with the Flint water crisis.

Todd Flood, the special counsel handing the case for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, made the announcement today in a Flint courtroom.

After the brief hearing, Flood said he is seeking the new charges now “based on new review of other documents and testimony that came out last week.”

He said “some revelations came up … that assisted us” during the preliminary examination of Nick Lyon, the director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Flood declined to elaborate and said he can’t get into details.

Wells, who already faces two charges – obstruction of justice, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, and lying to a peace officer, a misdemeanor – appeared in court today for her preliminary examination.  The hearing, which determines if the case proceeds to trial, was pushed back after Flood announced that he plans to seek the new charges.

A judge will determine whether to authorize the new charges at the conclusion of the exam, which now is set for Nov. 6 at 9 a.m. before 67th District Court Judge William Crawford II.

“We were told only this morning that Mr. Flood proposes to file two additional charges,” said Jerold Lax, one of Wells’ attorneys. “And under the circumstances, we reluctantly agreed to an adjournment so as to be able to prepare.”

Wells stood next to her attorneys and said, “I’m OK,” when asked how she was doing.

“She wishes she were in a position to simply perform her job,” Lax said. “But she’s doing quite well under the circumstances.”

In June, prosecutors accused Wells of knowingly giving false testimony to an investigator and threatening to withhold funding from the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if it did not stop investigating the source of outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area. She is also accused of willfully making a false statement about the date she knew about the outbreak in Genesee County.

The disease, a severe type of pneumonia, started after Flint changed its water supply source to the Flint River in April 2014. It is linked to at least a dozen deaths in 2014 and 2015.  The source hasn’t been definitely linked to the water change, but some experts have blamed the water on increased cases.

In a court document filed before today's development, the defense said they will request the court deny sending the case to circuit court for trial “both on legal grounds and insufficient evidence."

The prosecution alleges that Wells, who was appointed to her job in May 2015, lied when she said she had no knowledge of the outbreak until late September 2015 or early October of that year. 

“Contrary to her testimony, defendant Wells knew about the outbreak as early as March 2015,” a court document filed in June said.

Her attorneys declined to discuss what Wells knew about the outbreak and when today.

Wells is one of 15 people to be charged criminally in connection with Schuette’s investigation into the Flint water crisis. Two of the defendants have taken plea deals in their cases.

Only one other defendant’s preliminary examination has started.Lyon was in court last week for his exam. During it, a top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder testified he told the governor about the Legionnaires' outbreak in December, the month before Snyder has said he found out.

Lyon, whose preliminary examination is set to resume Nov. 1., faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office.

He is accused of causing the death of an 85-year-old man who was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease in 2015 and died six months later. Robert Skidmore's death certificate lists "end-stage congestive heart failure" as the cause.  

Skidmore remains the only victim "as of right now" in the involuntary manslaughter charge, Flood said.

The AG's office is pursuing involuntary manslaughter charges against four other defendants as well including, Darnell Earley, former Flint emergency manager; Liane Shekter-Smith, former chief of the office of drinking water and municipal assistance within the Department of Environmental Quality;Stephen Busch, a former supervisor in the Department of Environment Quality; Howard Croft, former Flint public works director.

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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