2 health officials turn themselves in after newest Flint water charges
Posted June 15
FLINT, MI — Two of the highest health officials in the state turned themselves into a Flint court Thursday morning.
One of them is facing involuntary manslaughter - the most serious criminal charge handed down so far in connection with the water crisis.
The charges stem from the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County linked to the Flint River water.
Investigators with the Attorney General's Office say Nick Lyon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, knew about the outbreak for a year before warning the public. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The state's chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, also turned herself in Thursday morning. She's charged with lying to a police officer and obstruction of justice.
Wells apparently tried to stop Wayne State University researchers from looking into the Legionnaires' problem.
Four others previously charged in this investigation are now also facing involuntary manslaughter charges - former emergency manager Darnell Earley, Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft and two DEQ higher ups.
Governor Rick Snyder said Thursday that both Lyon and Wells will keep their jobs through this investigation. Their roles include a very hands-on effort with the state recovery team in Flint.
(06/14/17) - Multiple people are facing charges in connection with Flint's water emergency.
Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the department, have now been criminally charged. Lyon is facing the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter.
ABC12 News was the only television station in court Wednesday morning when Lyon was charged. He also faces a misconduct in office charge.
Involuntary manslaughter charges have also been added to Department of Environmental Quality employees Stephen Busch and Liane Shekter-Smith, former head of Flint Public Works Howard Croft and former emergency manager Darnell Earley.
The involuntary manslaughter charges are the most serious of any that have come down. They are connected to the Legionnaires' disease death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore of Mt. Morris.
Skidmore died at McLaren hospital on December 13, 2015. Investigators say his death could have been prevented if some of the highest health officials in the state warned the public sooner.
Investigators say Lyon was aware of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak on at least Jan. 28, 2015, but didn't notify the public until a year later. Apparent documentation shows Lyon was personally briefed about the outbreak with charts and figures showing that the number of cases were more than three times the average in Genesee County.
When the Centers for Disease Control offered help in addressing the outbreak early on, DHHS, by the direction of Lyon, allegedly refused assistance. Investigators say Lyon also denied independent scientists from researching if the spike was tied to the untreated Flint River water.
It wasn't until Jan. 13, 2016 that DHHS finally notified the public about the outbreak.
The manslaughter charges hold a penalty of 15 years in prison and or a $7,500 fine.
Investigators said in court Wednesday that Wells knowingly provided false information to a special agent working with attorney general's office on the water crisis. Wells allegedly told them she did not know about the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease until September 2015, but documentation shows she was informed by a high-ranking member of the MDEQ in March 2015.
She also allegedly tried to stop Wayne State University researchers from studying the connection of the outbreak to the untreated Flint River water. Wells said their independent research would be 'problematic.'
She is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.
"This investigation is about the families of Flint. The moms and dads that wanted to give their children a cool drink of water yesterday when it was 90 degrees, but didn't cause they were fearful of the water," said Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Schuette told ABC12 News that his investigators have made attempts to interview Governor Rick Snyder, but were unsuccessful.
Wednesday afternoon, Snyder issued a statement in support of Lyon and Wells. It reads, "Nick Lyon has been a strong leader at the Department of Health and Human Services for the past several years and remains completely committed to Flint's recovery. Director Lyon and Dr. Eden Wells, like every other person who has been charged with a crime by Bill Schuette, are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some state employees were charged over a year ago and have been suspended from work since that time. They still have not had their day in court. That is not justice for Flint nor for those who have been charged. Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint's recovery. They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS."
Mayor Karen Weaver said she was not shocked by the severity of the charges. She said, "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."