The complaint filed against Michigan’s top health official, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday along with four others for their alleged role in worsening the water crisis in the city of Flint, makes for deeply disturbing reading.
News of the impending charges broke on Wednesday morning. Hours later, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced them in a press conference. There were five defendants in total, but the most prominent was Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon, who had a legal obligation to protect public health.
According to the government’s complaint, Lyon and others were so negligent that they not only helped poison the children of Flint, but also managed to cause at least one person to die.
After allegedly being informed of the threat posed by the water in Flint, Lyon failed to notify the public until after a year, which Schuette said cost the life of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore.
According to the Michigan Attorney General’s office, Skidmore died in December 2015 of Legionnaires’ Disease. From the complaint:
The charging documents reveal several damning statements made by Lyon. For example, he is quoted as saying he “can’t save everyone” and that “everyone has to die of something.”
Lyon also 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.”
According to a study, at least 12 people died from the outbreak. Others, including children, were poisoned by the lead in the water, which Schuette’s office said could have been prevented by treating the pipes with an anti-corrosive that would have cost just $200 per day.
Four other officials also face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with Skidmore’s death. They include Michigan Department of Environmental Quality District 8 Water Supervisor Stephen Busch, MDEQ’s Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, and former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.
These individuals were charged because they allegedly failed to notify the public of the outbreak or failed to take action that could have stopped it, according to the Michigan attorney general’s press release.
In a statement, Lyon’s attorney’s denied the charges, calling them “baseless” and vowing he would be vindicated.
Attorneys for Earley, Croft and Shekter-Smith also denied the charges against their clients in interviews with the Associated Press and MLive.com. I have reached out to Busch’s office and will update this post if I hear back.
According to Schuette, 15 current or former officials face 51 criminal charges related to the water crisis.
Notably, Schuette did not announce any charges against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. In 2016 and 2017, there were multiple attempts to recall Snyder over the Flint Water Crisis. Documents suggest that some of Snyder’s advisers were aware of the Legionnaires spike as early as March 2015.
“We attempted to interview the governor. We were not successful,” Schuette explained at the press conference. “The rules of professional conduct prohibit me from going any further.”
On Wednesday, Snyder issued a statement in support of Lyon and the state’s Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, who faces separate charges.