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Detroit Legal Blog

Official Charged with Manslaughter in Flint Water Crisis

Jul 28, 2017, by Maurice Davis in Criminal Defense, Felony, Legal Blog

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Flint water crisis has been the widespread poisoning of children with dangerous amounts of lead. However, state officials who mishandled the crisis are set to be punished because an 85-year-old man died from legionnaires disease.

Switching the Flint water supply from the City of Detroit’s system to the Flint River caused an outbreak of the legionella bacterium, which infected over 100 people and likely caused 12 deaths. While the lead poisoning will certainly have a detrimental effect on the development of many Flint children, no deaths have been linked to lead contamination thus far.

Which Michigan Officials Are Being Charged?

A total of seventeen people are facing criminal charges, including:

  • Nick Lyon – Head of the state health department, charged with manslaughter for his failure to warn the public.
  • Eden Wells – Chief medical officer of the state health department, who allegedly threatened to revoke funding from researchers who were studying the legionella outbreak. He is facing charges of official misconduct, obstruction of justice, and lying to a police officer.
  • Stephen Busch – A regional supervisor with the Michigan department of environment, charged with manslaughter over his failure to warn.
  • Liane Shekter-Smith – State head of drinking water, also charged with manslaughter.
  • Howard Croft – The former director of Flint Public Works is facing manslaughter charges.
  • Darnell Earley – The state-appointed emergency manager who ordered that Flint’s water be switched from Detroit’s lines to the Flint River has been charged with manslaughter.

Todd Flood, a prosecutor with the office of the Michigan Attorney General, lead the investigation into the Flint water crisis. He stated: “This is a case where there’s been a willful disregard of just using ordinary due diligence,” adding that Lyon and other officials “took no action to alert the public” after learning of the legionella outbreak and its likely origin in the Flint water supply.

Among allegations that Governor Rick Snyder’s cabinet suppressed information about the Flint crisis, there is also a possibility that the governor and his aides could face charges. Attorney General Schuette’s investigators tried – and failed – to interview the governor. But to date, there is no indication that formal charges will be brought against the governor and his team.

What Situations May Warrant a Charge of Involuntary Manslaughter?

According to Michigan Penal Code section 750.321, manslaughter–known as criminally negligent homicide–occurs when a death results from a person’s recklessness, criminal negligence, or the commission of misdemeanor or low-level felony. The question is, did Michigan state officials act with criminal negligence?

The charges allege that state-appointed officials who oversaw the transition of Flint’s water supply knew about the outbreak of legionella for months, but failed to warn the public. The case will hinge on whether the officials failed to act with a reasonable duty of care–that is to say, in the way a reasonable person would have under the same circumstances.

Here, it seems that a reasonable official charged with the safety and health of the public would issue a warning upon learning of the presence of lethal contaminants within the water supply. Thus, the case of criminal negligence against these Michigan state officials is strong on its face.

If convicted, these government officials face up to 15 years in state prison, up to $7,500 in fines, and the obligation of compensating the families of the deceased for their loss. Upon release from prison, the offenders will need to cope with the lifelong burden of being felons, which entails severe restrictions on their liberty.

At Davis Law Group, we are committed to the cause of social justice and the duty to defend the accused as they confront the criminal justice system. With a proven track record of obtaining good case results in the face of difficult odds, we are ready to assist you if you are facing charges. If you need a skilled Detroit criminal defense lawyer by your side, call us today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation about your case.