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Flint Crisis Sparks Manslaughter Charges

Thursday, June 15, 2017

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Five Michigan officials, including the head of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, were charged Wednesday (June 14) with involuntary manslaughter in a case related to the Flint drinking-water crisis.

Flint water tower
© / LindaParton

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon and four other former state and local officials are now facing involuntary manslaughter changes in relation to Flint's drinking-water crisis.

The charges come as a result of the 2015 death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, who allegedly contracted Legionnaires' disease and fell ill in June of that year. The officials stand accused of covering up a legionella outbreak in Flint at that time; the outbreak coincided with Flint’s decision to source its drinking water from the Flint River, a move that led to corrosion and alleged contamination.

Five Charged

The five charged Wednesday are:

  • Nick Lyon, who has been director of MDHHS since April 2015;
  • Darnell Earley, Flint’s former emergency manager;
  • Howard Croft, Flint’s former public works director;
  • Liane Shekter Smith, former head of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance; and
  • Stephen Busch, who was a district coordinator with the ODWMA.

Lyon is the only one of the five who had not been charged previously with crimes in relation to the Flint crisis. According to reports, he also faces one count of misconduct in office, a felony.

Flint River
Andrew Jameson, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The outbreak coincided with Flint’s decision to source its drinking water from the Flint River (pictured), a move that led to corrosion and alleged contamination.

Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the MDHHS, was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.

Earley and Croft were both charged in December with multiple 20-year felonies related to their decision to switch Flint’s drinking-water source despite alleged knowledge of the public-health risks associated with the move. Shekter Smith was charged last year with misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty, and is awaiting trial. Busch pleaded guilty last year to willful neglect of duty, and charges of tampering with evidence were dismissed.

Charges Against Lyon

The Detroit Free Press reports that court documents state that Lyon knew about the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Flint in January 2015 at the latest, but did not let the public know until a year later. Skidmore contracted the disease and died before the outbreak was publicized.

Nick Lyon
Michigan DHHS

MDHHS director Nick Lyon faces one count of involuntary manslaughter in relation to the death of a Flint resident who contracted Legionnaires' disease.

Accusing the MDHHS head of gross negligence, the documents quote Lyon as saying that “everyone has to die of something,” according to the Free Press. If convicted, Lyon could face up to 15 years on the involuntary manslaughter charge.

State Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, called on Lyon to resign in light of the charges against him.

Flint Crisis Origin

Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April 2014, when the city chose to switch its water source from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River as an interim solution while a pipeline to carry water from Lake Huron to the communities of the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority was being built. Flint is part of a three-county area that voted in 2010 to leave Detroit’s water supply and form the KWA.

Water from the Flint River was not treated with corrosion-control agents, and began to corrode the city’s aging pipes. Drinking water in many homes was contaminated with lead, leading to a public health crisis. Prosecutors have also alleged that officials knew the water treatment plant that was being brought online to treat Flint’s water was insufficient, but that they went forward with the plan anyway.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Criminal acts; Ethics; Government; North America; potable water; Program/Project Management

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