According to Todd Flood, the emergency legal counsel currently heading the investigation of the Flint water department's role in lying about the safety of its drinking water, city employees could potentially be looking at manslaughter charges.
“We’re here to investigate what possible crimes there are, anything [from] involuntary manslaughter or death that may have happened to some young person or old person because of this poisoning, to misconduct in office,” Flood told reporters Tuesday night. “We take this very seriously.”
Flood's statement comes after a number of recent revelations about just how much Flint city employees knew about the health risks associated with the local drinking water before the public was advised to take precautions. Last week, it came to light that a number of Michigan state officials were alerted to a spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease and their possible connection to changes in the city's water supply—about a year before Michigan governor Rick Snyder told the public. Ten people have died from the water-borne illness.
“The increase of the illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water,” Genesee County environmental heath supervisor Jim Henry wrote to the state Department of Environmental Quality in early March. “The majority of the cases reside or have an association with the city.”
Late yesterday, Flood made a point to say that his investigation was still open to the possibility that city officials never intended to act in bad faith and that Flint's entire water crisis stemmed from “honest mistakes." But Flood also compared the possible negligence of city officials to construction workers ignoring potholes—dangerous, and not without consequence.
Flood's team of nine investigators will work independently of a separate FBI team also looking into who's to blame for the water crisis and whether or not federal laws were broken. Currently, both state and city officials have taken to passing the blame around and desperately trying to downplay whatever roles they may have played in the decisions that ultimately exposed thousands to poisoned water.
Technically, the Flint city council made the 7-1 decision to change the source of Flint's water, but it's widely understood that the council was in close talks with a number of aides from Governor Snyder's office about the vote. Snyder has owned up to the ball having been dropped on his watch but also pointed the finger at the Department of Environmental Quality which, as The Washington Post points out, is headed by a man Snyder appointed himself.