Michigan health director to stand trial for manslaughter in Flint water-related deaths

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This post was written and reported by contributor Dawn R. Wolfe through our new Daily Kos freelance program.

A Michigan state official at the heart of the Flint water crisis is heading to trial for manslaughter. Nick Lyon, the director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is accused of being at least partially responsible for the Legionnaires’ disease-related deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder in 2015. Lyon is accused of failing to inform the public when an outbreak of Legionnaires’ was first detected in January 2015, an outbreak some contend was tied to the Flint water crisis. After months of preliminary hearings, Judge David Goggins decided on Monday that there was probable cause for a trial to move forward.

According to a February MLive report, public records show that DHHS officials were aware of a rapid rise in Legionnaires’ cases within months of the city’s ill-fated switch to Flint River water in April 2014, but the state didn’t issue a public notice about the outbreak until mid-January 2016. In total, 12 people died as a result of the outbreak and another 79 were sickened.

In a statement to the press, Flint Mayor Dr. Karen Weaver hailed Goggins’s decision this week as “a good step on the road to recovery. I hope that the State continues to be held accountable for the State’s decisions,” Weaver said. “What happened in Flint cannot and should not happen anywhere else in this country, especially in the state of Michigan. This sends the message that lives are more important than dollars and to consider people over both profit and policy.”

But while Weaver and activists across the city are celebrating, some consider bringing criminal charges against Lyon a controversial move. Former longtime Michigan Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelly called the charges politically motivated in an August 2017 op-ed in the Detroit Free Press. Attorney General Bill Schuette, who brought charges against Lyon, has won the 2018 Republican Party nomination for governor.

Lyon plans to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, on Aug. 13, former Flint city manager Darnell Earley and Howard Croft, Flint’s former Department of Public Works director, learned that the preliminary hearings in their criminal cases will begin on Oct. 15. Earley’s decision to switch from Detroit water to the highly corrosive Flint River started the crisis. Both Earley and Croft are also potentially facing charges of involuntary manslaughter.

According to the Michigan attorney general’s web page dedicated to the Flint water crisis, Lyon, Earley, and Croft are among 13 current and former state and local officials facing a total of 43 criminal charges. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that four of those officials have agreed to misdemeanor plea deals. The remaining cases are pending.

Dawn Wolfe is a freelance writer and journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you‘d like to help support more stories like this through our freelance program, contribute here.

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