The head of the Michigan health department and the state's chief medical officer are the latest to be charged in an investigation of Flint's lead-contaminated water.
Four others, including former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and Water Supervisor Stephen Busch have also each been slapped with an additional charge.
Dr. Eden Wells is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. She is accused of attempting to withhold funding for programs designed to help the victims of the crisis, and then allegedly lied to an investigator about material facts related to the investigation.
Nick Lyon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes. He's accused of failing to alert the public of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak and is also charged in connection with the death of Robert Skidmore.
Both Wells and Lyon were officially arraigned on their charges Thursday.
Robert Skidmore, 85, of Mt. Morris, died of Legionnaires’ disease. He was one of multiple Flint-area residents who died of Legionnaires’ following the switch from the Detroit Water and Sewer Department to the Flint River, according to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.
"Robert Skidmore was a family man and he and his wife had three sons," Schuette said.
Investigators report Lyon allegedly received notice of the deadly outbreak in Genesee County nearly one year before he informed the public, allowing the disease to continue its spread through the Flint water system.
"Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of citizens of Flint," Schuette said.
Furthermore, Schuette’s office claims 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.
Lyon's attorneys Chip Chamberlain and Larry Wiley said the involuntary manslaughter and other charges he faces tied to the water crisis are baseless.
They said the facts of the case don't support Schuette's claims.
"Children in Flint have been exposed to lead poisoning and the community has witnessed an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease causing the death of numerous people," Schuette said.
Earley, Croft, Shekter-Smith, and Busch have also each been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Skidmore’s death.
Earley had previously been charged with: felony false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office and a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty. Click here to see the report on Earley
Croft had previously been charged with: felony false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses. Click here to see the report on Croft.
Busch had previously been 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. Click here to see the report on Busch
Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and/or a $7,500 fine.
More than a dozen people have now been charged in connection with the Flint water crisis investigation, according to Schuette.
"The tragedy of Flint is that there was a health crisis in Flint that caused a trust crisis in Michigan," Schuette said.
He said his investigation is about delivering justice for families of Flint.
"This investigation is about children in Flint that have been exposed to lead poisoning. This investigation is about the numerous people who've died of Legionnaires' disease," Schuette said.
Schuette said at this time he is not filing charges against Gov. Snyder.
"We only file criminal charges when evidence of probably cause to commit a crime has been established and we're not filing charges at this time," Schuette said.
He is asking people to trust the process.
"We don't have a checklist of who we're after or what charges might you file. This is investigative work," Schuette said.
Investigators like Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton had a message for those with concerns the investigation is taking too long or isn't leading to high enough branches of government.
"There's nothing political about this. There's nothing political about any criminal investigation and anyone who thinks that is just barking up the wrong tree," Leyton said.
Snyder issued a statement backing both Lyons and Wells. He said they will remain on duty at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver issued the following statement following today's charges:
“I’ve said from the very beginning, anyone who had a part in the man-made water disaster that occurred in the City of Flint needs to be held accountable. The deaths that happened because of Legionnaires' disease has been yet another tragedy the people of Flint have been faced with as a result of the water crisis. Manslaughter is a serious charge. It’s good to see that state Attorney General Schuette and his team are taking this matter seriously by bringing such serious charges against those who they believe didn’t do enough to address this public health threat, or to alert the Flint community about it.
I hope that Flint residents will see these charges and know that the fight for justice continues. We all are waiting to see what else the investigation uncovers.”
Congressman Dan Kildee issued the following statement:
“Justice for Flint families comes in many forms, including holding state officials who created this man-made crisis accountable. Today’s announcement that additional state officials will face criminal charges is an indictment of the state’s failed policies that led to this crisis. I support the ongoing investigations, led solely by the facts, that seek to hold everyone accountable who did this to Flint.
“It is important to remember that the Flint water crisis is not over. The state and the Governor created this crisis and they must do more to help Flint’s recovery.”
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley issues this statement:
In light of the charges filed against Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon today in connection with the Flint water crisis, I am calling on Gov. Rick Snyder to terminate Director Lyon immediately. My office began calling for an investigation into state officials involved in the Flint water crisis in September 2015, and we revisited these attempts more vigorously in February 2016 after Mr. Skidmore lost his life. How Gov. Snyder can continue to have ‘full faith and confidence’ in members of his administration who are being charged in connection with the loss of human lives is incomprehensible, and absolutely unacceptable. Even more so when the individuals he is defending are those within a state department whose mission is to ‘improve the health and wellbeing of Michigan citizens by promoting safe and healthy environments.’ Director Lyon’s actions fly in the face of that mission and as such he should no longer be acting as the head of that department. Moving forward, I can only pray that the hardworking taxpayers of this state will not continue to be penalized by paying for legal counsel for emergency managers and others who have contributed to the trouble that Flint and our state has faced in recent years.
Snyder won't talk without subpoena
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his investigators have tried to interview Gov. Rick Snyder about the Flint water crisis but have been unsuccessful.
Schuette made the disclosure during a news conference Wednesday to announce additional charges in the case, including involuntary manslaughter against Snyder's director of the state health department. He didn't elaborate.
Snyder's attorney, Brian Lennon, says the governor is willing to be interviewed under oath if the attorney general's office presents an "investigative subpoena." He says the subpoena would ensure that Snyder's information would remain confidential.
Lennon says there's been no subpoena.
Residents, local leaders react to new charges
"It don't make me feel right," said Minus Bradley, Flint resident.
He said more charges and defendants added to the Flint water crisis investigation may serve justice eventually, but it doesn't fix his pipes. It also doesn't make him trust his tap water.
"I don't drink it anymore. I have to bathe in it, but I would never cook with it," Bradley said.
He said he believes the now 15 people charged in connection to the crisis should already be in jail along with other reparations.
Bradley said he also wants to be compensated for the value lost in his Flint home.
While he remains upset, local leaders are more optimistic after the latest round of charges. Weaver said she doesn't think this is the last we will hear from Schuette.
"I'm going to continue to let it play out. One of the things he's going to continue to do is keep looking. He hasn't stopped so far so we don't know how this will end up," Weaver said.
City Councilman Eric Mays is already asking who's next.
"Will there be more charges? Particularly the duty of the public officer on both the local level and the governor," Mays said.
As for Bradley, he just wants to trust his water again.
"I hope they get everything straight. That's what I pray they do," Bradley said.
Flint water crisis activist Melissa Mays said more people need to be held accountable, including Snyder.
"He made all the decisions. Gov. Snyder's word with the bottom line of what happened here in Flint. So there's no way that he didn't know and so it's frustrating every time we see these charges come out and yet none of them have touched him," Mays said.
Mays wonders if the people already charged will ever be fully prosecuted.
She is trying to figure out if more people were involved and who is next.
"I just want to see the evidence that they have and who all this actually impacted and how far it goes," Mays said.
Flint Rising released this statement:
The latest round of charges brought forth against top current and former officials in the Snyder Administration is troubling, infuriating, and a disgrace to the people of Flint and the State of Michigan. Many of the individuals charged today answered directly to Gov. Snyder. Enough is enough. Gov. Snyder needs to resign immediately and the people must know what he knew and when he knew it. Gov. Snyder must not be immune from accountability.
When Flint residents began to voice concerns about the quality of our water in 2014, we deserved to receive the undivided attention of officials in the Snyder Administration and Gov. Snyder himself. Instead, as we have been saying all along, we were dismissed and treated in a negligent way. People have died because of this water crisis; people have been poisoned for the rest of their lives because of this water crisis; and generations to come will have to deal with this water crisis that is still ongoing. We deserve full justice and we deserve it now.
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