Officials in Flint Water Crisis Could Face 15 Years Behind Bars

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Officials in Flint Water Crisis Could Face 15 Years Behind Bars

Teddy Wilson

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who has refused to talk to investigators, defended state officials charged for their involvement in creating Flint's water crisis.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) on Wednesday announced criminal charges against six state and local government officials as part of the investigation into the Flint water crisis.

Five officials, including the head of the state’s health department, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, and a sixth official was charged with obstruction of justice.

Schuette on Wednesday held a press conference to announce the charges. He joined by by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, special counsel Todd Flood, and lead investigator Andy Arena.

“Our criminal investigation into the water crisis in Flint has been and will always be about one system of justice,” Schuette said. “Accountability and responsibility are the cornerstones of our mission.”

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More than a dozen state and local officials have been charged with more than 50 crimes in the ongoing Flint water crisis. The charges stemmed from the 2014 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint, which occurred after city officials switched the water supply from Lake Huron to the corrosive Flint River. The outbreak resulted in 12 deaths. 

The involuntary manslaughter charges were in relation to the death of Robert Skidmore of Mt. Morris, Michigan, who died of Legionnaires’ disease during the outbreak.

Those charged on Wednesday were the highest ranking officials in Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to be snared in the probe into the crisis. Criminal charges against those allegedly responsible for the Flint water crisis have done little to change the public perception of what city residents view as “selective justice.”

Schuette said there are no charges forthcoming against Snyder, adding that his office “attempted to interview the governor.” “We were not successful,” Schuette said, reported the Detroit Free Press.

Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, said in a statement that Snyder should take responsibility for the manmade disaster and resign from the governorship.

“The latest round of charges brought forth against top current and former officials in the Snyder Administration is troubling, infuriating, and a disgrace to the people of Flint and the State of Michigan,” Shariff said. “Many of the individuals charged today answered directly to Gov. Snyder. Enough is enough. Gov. Snyder needs to resign immediately and the people must know what he knew and when he knew it. Gov. Snyder must not be immune from accountability.”

Nick Lyon, director of Michigan Health and Human Services, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine. Lyon was also charged with misconduct in office, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Four other officials who have been charged with other crimes were charged with involuntary manslaughter: Darnell Earley, former Flint emergency manager; Liane Shekter-Smith, former head of drinking water at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ); Stephen Busch, former drinking water official at DEQ; and Howard Croft, former manager of the City of Flint Water Department.

Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. Obstruction of justice is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Lying to a police officer is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Snyder issued a statement defending Lyon and Wells and said they have his “full faith and confidence.” Snyder appeared to criticize the legal process because some of those charged have not yet been to trial. “That is not justice for Flint nor for those who have been charged,” Snyder said.

Flood said during the press conference that while he hopes the charges help bring accountability, nothing will repair the damage caused by the negligence of government officials, reported the Washington Post.

“There are no winners here,” Flood said. “We cannot bring back Mr. Skidmore. We can’t bring back the lost loved ones that died from legionella. I wish we could turn back the hands of time, but we can’t.”