Officials Face Manslaughter Charges For Flint Deaths

| by Selena Darlim

Five current and former Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter June 14 in connection to the Flint water crisis.  The charges were filed on the basis of the officials' roles in an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed multiple people.  One other state official, Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to police.

The five individuals charged with involuntary manslaughter are Director of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon, Department of Environmental Quality employees Liane Shekter-Smith and Stephen Busch, former state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley, and former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft.  

All except for Lyon had been previously charged with lesser crimes in connection to the crisis, Reuters reports.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia with severe symptoms.  In Michigan, 90 cases of the disease were reported in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015 -- 12 people died from the illness.

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According to Michigan Radio, scientists believe that the Legionnaires' disease outbreak began in 2014 when Flint switched its water system.  Lack of chlorine disinfectant, high iron levels, and corrosion which caused lead to leach into the water could have created an environment for Legionella bacteria growth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a link between two Legionnaires' cases and bacteria found in a Flint hospital in 2014.  They connected the link to the recent switch in the city's water supply, Michigan Radio reports.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services did not follow up with the CDC at the time.  The public was officially notified of the outbreak over one year later, in January 2016.

Reuters reports that according to court documents, Lyon's failure to notify the public of the outbreak upon learning about it caused the December 2015 death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, a Genesee Township resident.  The other officials are similarly charged for their lack of action. Wells is charged for reportedly lying to police about the outbreak and threatening a group of researchers who were studying the disease's source.  

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If convicted, the officials charged with involuntary manslaughter could face 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $7,500, according to a Michigan Live report.

Some individuals are calling for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to be charged. Snyder's spokeswoman, Anna Heaton, issued the following statement: "The governor isn't going to speculate on where the investigation is or is not headed, but he continues to cooperate fully."

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said that his attempts to interview the governor have not successful.  In a previous statement, Schuette said the governor was not a target but that "nobody was off the table".

Current Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has not been charged in the case.  She appears to support the investigation.

"It's good to see that state Attorney General Schuette and his team are taking this matter seriously," Weaver said. "We all are waiting to see what else the investigation uncovers."

Sources: Michigan Live, Reuters, Michigan Radio / Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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