Schuette files toughest Flint water charges yet

Jun 15, 2017

Rick Pluta interviews Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (center).
Credit Andrea Bitely

Two high-ranking state officials in Michigan face serious charges for allegedly keeping an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint a secret.

Involuntary manslaughter is the most serious criminal charge filed yet related to the Flint water crisis.

“People of Flint have died as a result of decisions made by those responsible for protecting the health and safety of families,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who alleges state Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon knew about an outbreak of Legionnare’s disease and said nothing for more than a year. Schuette also charged Michigan Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells with obstructing justice and lying to a police officer about when she first knew of the danger.                

“These charges reflect the deaths that have occurred in the city of Flint and the conduct that caused these deaths in the city of Flint,” he said.                

The outbreak, which caused a dozen deaths, occurred not long after the city switched water supplies. It caused lead contamination of the water. Prosecutors say the switch also created the conditions that led to the Legionnaire’s outbreak.

All this happened while Flint was being run by state-appointed emergency managers who were looking for ways to save money. Former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley and three other state officials who have already been charged with other crimes now also face involuntary manslaughter charges.                

“We’re happy that justice is taking place,” said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

She said it’s a sad moment, but she also expressed relief, adding it’s time officials who made decisions that led to the water crisis are held accountable.                

“Because this is terrible,” she said. “It’s terrible what’s happened in the city of Flint, but we wanted some accountability. We’ve had people who’ve lost their lives. In addition to what’s happened       with the lead poisoning, we’ve had people who died of legionella.”              

Not far away from the press conference, people were browsing and eating at the Totem Bookstore and Café. It’s a community gathering place where people order gourmet snacks and drinks and sort through the collection of books, records, and memorabilia.

Ocean Alexander says the water crisis has largely faded as a topic of daily conversation. She says people just want it fixed.                

“It’s just a sad situation,” she said. “A lot of us is choked up because we don’t understand how could this have happened. And for so long. How are people still in office? It’s ridiculous.”                

These are the most serious charges yet filed related to the water crisis. And the most high-reaching. The health and human services director and the chief medical executive are appointed by the governor.

Schuette is an elected attorney general and is widely expected to run for governor next year.

Governor Rick Snyder won’t run because he is term limited. In a video posted online, Snyder defended his cabinet members.                

“Nick Lyon and Doctor Wells remain fully committed to Flint’s recover,” he said. “They have my full faith and confidence.”                

And Snyder added, they will remain on the job. He says they all deserve to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.