Michigan health director charged with involuntary manslaughter in tainted Flint water

By Allen Cone  |  June 14, 2017 at 12:08 PM
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June 14 (UPI) -- The Michigan Attorney General has charged the state's health director with involuntary manslaughter in the lead poisoning of Flint's water supply.

Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon also faces another felony count: misconduct in office, according to court documents obtained by the Detroit Free Press that Attorney General Bill Schuette filed Tuesday.

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

Judge G. David Guinn, in Michigan's 67th District Court, authorized the charges Wednesday morning in Flint.

The officials' actions are linked to the lead poisoning of children in Flint and 12 deaths after the city's water supply was switched in April 2014 from treated Lake Huron water to raw water from the Flint River, treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.

The New York Times reported 13 people face charges related to the crisis, but those counts are limited to misconduct in office and conspiracy to commit false pretenses.

Three of the those charged were Flint officials, including a former director of the city's Public Works Department and a former utilities director. The 10 state officials include two state-appointed emergency managers assigned to oversee Flint, a state epidemiologist and the former leader of the state municipal drinking water office.

Lyon, 49, could face 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

"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," according to the charging document. "Defendant Lyon willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires' Disease outbreak."

Prosecutors accuse Lyon of causing the death of Robert Skidmore on Dec. 13, 2015.

"Defendant Lyon was aware of Genesee County's Legionnaires' disease outbreak at least by Jan. 28, 2015, and did not notify the public until a year later," the charging documents allege.

The misconduct charge carries a possible five-year sentence. Prosecutors say Lyon instructed an official to stop an analysis that would help determine the crisis' cause.

Gov. Rick Snyder named Lyon to the position in April 10, 2015, when he created a new agency that merged the Department of Human Services and Michigan Department of Community Health. Lyon had led the latter department.

The Detroit Free Press could not immediately reach health department officials and lawyers for those charged.

Prosecutors accuse Wells, 54, of providing false testimony to a special agent and threatening to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if it didn't cease the investigation into the source of the outbreak. Wells, who started in the position in May 2015, could face five years in prison.

Wells is also charged with lying to a peace officer about when she knew about the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. That misdemeanor carries a potential two-year sentence.

Michigan plans spend $87 million to replace 18,000 contaminated water pipes in Flint by January 2020.

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