Nick Lyon, the head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was officially charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday based on his actions regarding the water contamination crisis in Flint and the multiple deaths that resulted from the situation. Four other officials were also similarly charged for their involvement in the government’s decision-making process.
The city of Flint switched water suppliers in 2014, a move that was partly to save money. Water from the new suppliers was later linked to cases of lead poisoning in children as well as 12 deaths of people who became infected with Legionnaires’ disease.
As reported by the New York Times, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stated one of the aforementioned deaths led to accusations of involuntary manslaughter. He also confirmed new charges against 13 officials were the result of a sweeping investigation.
Documents related to the involuntary manslaughter charges specifically reference one of the 12 who died as a consequence of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Robert Skidmore, 85, passed away on December 13, 2015, after the water reportedly made him ill. He was caring for his ailing wife at the time of his illness. She also died, but her death was unrelated to the water contamination.
The charging documents specifically state the Lyon “willfully disregarded the deadly nature” of Legionnaires’ disease and his “acts and failure to act resulted in the death of at least one person.” They went on to say Lyon’s “exhibited gross negligence when he failed to alert the public about the deadly outbreak and by taking steps to suppress information illustrating obvious and apparent harms that were likely to result in serious injury.”
Speaking about the situation, Schuette stated, “The health crisis in Flint has created a trust crisis in Michigan government.”
He asserted that Lyon and four other government officials failed in their duties when they didn’t alert the public regarding the Legionnaires’ outbreak. If convicted of manslaughter, Lyon could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Lyon also faces felony charges of misconduct in office.
The most recent round of charges brings the total number of people charged in connection with the water crisis in Flint to 15.