Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.
"We're looking at today as the first step and the next step for justice for the moms and the dads and the kids of Flint, specifically for the families of Mr. Snyder and Mr. Skidmore," spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Andrea Bitely, told The Detroit News.
Schuette's office is conducting an ongoing investigation into what happened when the Flint River was used for drinking water in Flint for 18 months in 2014 and 2015. The corrosive water was not treated and it leached lead from pipes into the water supply, The Associated Press summarized.
Michigan Live reported that two university studies also link the use of Flint River water to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that The Associated Press reported killed 12 and sickened 90 in 2014 and 2015.
Lyon is the highest-ranking of 15 local or state officials charged over either the Legionnaires' outbreak or the lead contamination. Four have agreed to plea deals, and the remaining cases are proceeding slowly, The Associated Press reported.
Lyon's attorneys said there was "zero proof that there was anything Director Lyon did or did not do" that caused the deaths of Snyder and Skidmore, according to Michigan Live.
They also argued that prosecuting him would "dangerously chill" public employees, according to The Associated Press.
Special Prosecutor Todd Flood maintained he could have ordered a change in the city's water supply, Michigan Live reported.
Prosecutors also accused him of covering up the source of the outbreak by preventing researchers from investigating its cause.
"He had the chance to save lives," Flood said in a July 25 hearing, according to The Associated Press.
Goggins seemed to agree Lyon should have acted sooner.
"I find this behavior over this time period of withholding information corrupt based upon misconduct in office for probable cause standards," Goggins said, according to The Detroit News.
The case will now proceed to trial in the Genesee Circuit Court.
"It's a long way from over," Lyon told The Associated Press.