CHICAGO (REUTERS) – Six current and former Michigan and Flint officials were criminally charged on Wednesday (June 14) for their roles in the city’s water crisis that was suspected of being responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that led to at least 12 deaths, the state’s attorney-general said.
Five of the officials, including Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, were charged with involuntary manslaughter stemming from their roles in handling the crisis, Michigan Attorney-General Bill Schuette said in a statement.
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Lyon, 49, was also charged with one count of misconduct in office. The felony charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Four current and former state and Flint officials were also charged with involuntary manslaughter. The four had all been previously charged with lesser crimes in connection with the water crisis.
The state’s Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was charged on Wednesday with obstruction of justice and lying to police.
Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement that Lyon and Wells have his “full faith and confidence” and would remain on duty and help in Flint’s recovery. Snyder called Lyon “a strong leader.”
The charges stem from more than 80 cases of Legionnaires’disease, including at least 12 that were fatal, that were believed to be linked to the water in Flint after the city switched its source to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014.
Lyon was aware of the Legionnaires’ outbreak in Gensee County at least one year before he informed the public, according to court documents. His deliberate failure to inform the public resulted in the death of Genesee Township resident Robert Skidmore, 85, from Legionnaires’ in December 2015.
Wells lied to police about when she became aware of the outbreak, according to the documents. She also threatened a team of independent researchers who were studying the source of the disease, court documents said.
An attorney for Lyon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not immediately known if Wells had an attorney.
The crisis in Flint erupted in 2015 when tests found high amounts of lead in blood samples taken from children in the predominantly black city of about 100,000.
The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes and into the drinking water. Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water had fallen fell below federal limits, state officials said last January.