Five Michigan state officials will finally be held responsible for their roles in the widespread water contamination crisis that crippled the city of Flint.
Michigan’s health department director and four other officials involved in the crisis were charged Wednesday, June 14, with involuntary manslaughter, the most severe charges so far in the criminal investigation, according to The Detroit News.
Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon was accused of misconduct in office in addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge, making him the highest–ranking member of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to go down in the water probe. Both offenses are felonies in the state.
Water Supervisor Stephen Busch, former Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft and ex-Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith also were charged with manslaughter for failing to notify the public about an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the Flint area. The outbreak, which some experts have attributed to a state emergency manager’s decision to switch the city’s water supply in 2014, left 12 people dead and 79 others severely sickened, the newspaper reported.
Each of the manslaughter charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years behind bars and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“The families of Flint have experienced a tragic, tragic health and safety crisis for the past three years,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that Lyon and the others had failed to protect the people of Flint. “Many people have died because of the decisions [other] people made.”
Schuette launched an investigation into the water crisis in January of 2016 to determine if any laws were broken in the state’s decision that created “the contamination crisis currently forcing Flint’s residents to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing, as they fear for their health.”
To date, more than 13 current and former state and local officials have been criminally charged in connection with the crisis. The Detroit News reported that Busch, Croft and Shekter-Smith also were charged with less-serious crimes last year. Moreover, Shuette made it clear that he hasn’t ruled out possible charges against Snyder.
“There are two types of people in the world — those who give a damn and those who don’t,” Special Prosecutor Todd Flood said. “This is a case where there has been willful disregard” for the health and safety of other people.