Flint water crisis: 5 officials face manslaughter charges

Flint water charges

Attorney General Bill Schuette charged two high-ranking state health officials today in the fourth round of criminal charges in the Flint drinking water crisis.

He also brought new and serious felony charges against four defendants who were charged earlier in the investigation.

And Schuete said that while no charges are planned against Gov. Rick Snyder, his investigation continues, and "we have attempted to interview the governor," but "we were not successful."

Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, both felonies.

Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.

And four defendants charged earlier -- former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality drinking water chief Liane Shekter-Smith; DEQ drinking water official Stephen Busch; and former City of Flint Water Department manager Howard Croft -- were each charged with involuntary manslaughter.

All of the new charges are in connection with the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the Flint area that led to 12 deaths after the city's water supply was switched to the Flint River in April 2014.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is the full news release sent by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette this morning regarding five people charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Flint water crisis.

FLINT – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced that he has charged Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, as well as Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and Water Supervisor Stephen Busch with involuntary manslaughter related to their alleged failure to act in the Flint Water Crisis.

Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and/or a $7,500 fine.

In addition to the involuntary manslaughter charges, Schuette also charged Lyon with Misconduct in Office, a felony, subject to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells has also been charged with lying to a peace officer and obstruction of justice related to an alleged attempt to stop an investigation into the health crisis in Flint and later misleading investigators as to her actions.

Schuette was joined at the announcement by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Flint Water Investigation Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, and Chief Investigator Andrew Arena.

INVESTIGATION INTERIM REPORT 
With more than a dozen people now having been charged, and pre-trial hearings and other legal proceedings occurring, Schuette released the initial results of the more than yearlong investigation. Included in the report is a comprehensive look at today’s and past charges made, as well as a review of the facts and evidence in the case.

NOTE: The report is attached to this press release.

DEFENDANTS
Multiple Flint-area residents died of Legionnaires’ disease in the time immediately following the switch from Detroit Water and Sewer Department to the Flint River. All defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter are charged in relation to the death of Robert Skidmore, 85, of Mt. Morris, Michigan. Skidmore died of Legionnaires’ disease after many others had been diagnosed with the illness, yet no public outbreak notice had been issued. The charges allege failure to notify and lack of action to stop the outbreak allowed the disease to continue its spread through Flint’s water system.

NICK LYON
As the Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a position whose duties are outlined in the Michigan Constitution, Lyon has a duty to protect public health. The investigation has shown that Lyon allegedly received notice of a deadly Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Genesee County nearly one year before he informed the public. After being informed about a potentially fatal health risk, Lyon allegedly deliberately failed to inform the public of a deadly Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak, which resulted in the death of Robert Skidmore. Furthermore, Lyon allegedly participated in covering up the source of Genesee County’s Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak by repeatedly attempting to prevent an independent researcher from looking into the cause of the outbreak.

Charges:
COUNT 1 – HOMICIDE – MANSLAUGHTER – INVOLUNTARY Did cause the death of Robert Skidmore on December 13, 2015, by failing to alert the public about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan when he had notice that another outbreak would occur; contrary to MCL 750.321. [750.321-C] FELONY: 15 Years and/or $7,500.00. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

COUNT 2 – MISCONDUCT IN OFFICE Did between February 2015 and May 2017, commit misconduct in office, an indictable offense at common law, in violation of his duty to protect the health of the citizens of the County of Genesee, State of Michigan and to protect the public health enjoined upon him by the Michigan Public Health Code, MCL 333.5111(1); MCL 333.5111(2)(f);MCL 333.2251(1): MCL 333.2251(3); and MCL 333.20531 and the Critical Health Problems Reporting Act; contrary to MCL 750.505. [750.505] FELONY: 5 Years and/or $10,000.00.

EDEN WELLS
As the Chief Medical Executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Eden Wells has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of Michigan residents. During the course of the investigation of the Flint Water Crisis, it is alleged that Wells attempted to withhold funding for programs designed to help the victims of the crisis, and then lied to an investigator about material facts related to the investigation.

Charges:
COUNT 1 – OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE Did commit the common law offense of obstruction of justice by knowingly providing false testimony to a Special Agent and by threatening to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if the partnership did not cease its investigation into the source of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan; contrary to MCL 750.505. FELONY: 5 Years or $10,000. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

COUNT 2 – LYING TO A PEACE OFFICER – 4 YEAR OR MORE CRIME INVESTIGATION After being informed by Special Counsel Todd Flood, in the presence of Special Agent Arthur Wimmer, that they were conducting a criminal investigation, did knowingly and willfully make a statement or statements to the officer that he or she knew was false or misleading regarding the following material fact or facts relating to the investigation: the date she knew of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan, and the officer was conducting a criminal investigation regarding involuntary manslaughter; contrary to MCL 750.479c(2)(c). [750.470C2C]. HIGH COURT MISDEMEANOR: 2 Years and/or $5,000.00.

STEPHEN BUSCH
Stephen Busch served as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality District 8 Water Supervisor, a position which would have allowed him to order the Flint Water Treatment Plant be shut down because it was not producing safe water. In January of 2015, Busch was made aware of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak, yet he allegedly represented to the public that Flint’s drinking water was safe.

Busch was previously charged with felony Misconduct in Office, Tampering with Evidence, Conspiracy to Tamper with Evidence, and two misdemeanor counts for both a treatment and monitoring violation of the Michigan Safe Water Drinking Act.

Charges:
COUNT 1 – HOMICIDE – MANSLAUGHTER – INVOLUNTARY Did cause the death of Robert Skidmore on December 13, 2015, by failing to alert the public about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan when he had notice that another outbreak would occur; contrary to MCL 750.321. [750.321-C] FELONY: 15 Years and/or $7,500.00. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

LIANE SHEKTER-SMITH 
As the Chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance at the Department of Environmental Quality, Shekter-Smith had the ability to order the Flint Water Treatment Plant shut down for failure to produce safe water.

Shekter-Smith was previously charged with a felony of Misconduct in Office and a misdemeanor charge of Willful Neglect of Duty.

Charges:
COUNT 1 – HOMICIDE – MANSLAUGHTER – INVOLUNTARY Did cause the death of Robert Skidmore on December 13, 2015, by failing to alert the public about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan when he had notice that another outbreak would occur; contrary to MCL 750.321. [750.321-C] FELONY: 15 Years and/or $7,500.00. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

HOWARD CROFT 
As Director of Public Works for the City of Flint, Croft had the ability to mandate changes to the treatment processes at the WTP to ensure proper disinfection was occurring, or switch back to DWSD. Mike Glasgow, former Flint Water Treatment Plant Operator, was allegedly pressured by Croft to start using the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Croft’s alleged failure to treat the water properly contributed to the bacterial outbreaks found in Flint, including the legionella in the spring of 2015.

Croft was previously charged with felony False Pretenses and Conspiracy to Commit False Pretenses.

Charges: 
COUNT 1 – HOMICIDE – MANSLAUGHTER – INVOLUNTARY Did cause the death of Robert Skidmore on December 13, 2015, by failing to alert the public about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan when he had notice that another outbreak would occur; contrary to MCL 750.321. [750.321-C] FELONY: 15 Years and/or $7,500.00. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

DARNELL EARLEY 
As an appointed Emergency Manager for the City of Flint, Earley was tasked with ensuring the health and welfare of the City. During his terms as Emergency Manager, Earley contributed to the decisions that allegedly caused the death of Robert Skidmore by keeping the City on the water source even as it became obvious the source should be switched back to Detroit Water & Sewer.

Earley was previously charged with felony False Pretenses, Conspiracy to Commit False Pretenses, Misconduct in Office and a misdemeanor charge of Willful Neglect of Duty.

Charges: 
COUNT 1 – HOMICIDE – MANSLAUGHTER – INVOLUNTARY Did cause the death of Robert Skidmore on December 13, 2015, by failing to alert the public about a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan when he had notice that another outbreak would occur; contrary to MCL 750.321. [750.321-C] FELONY: 15 Years and/or $7,500.00. DNA to be taken upon arrest.

Acriminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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