The director of Michigan’s Health and Human Services Department, Nick Lyon, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for his role in the Flint water crisis.
According to the Associated Press, four others were also charged with involuntary manslaughter Wednesday, and are all blamed in the death of an 85-year-old man who contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia.
Lyon is accused of having been briefed in January 2015 about a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint area but failing to alert the public about it. Lyon has admitted his awareness of the outbreak for months, but said he wanted to wait until state investigators finished their own probe. Experts have linked the outbreak to the poor water quality.
“Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a press conference Wednesday. “The families of Flint have experienced a tragic, tragic health and safety crisis for the past three years.”
According to NPR, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak spread in Flint following its switch in water source to the Flint river while under state emergency. However, the water was not treated to reduce corrosion, and lead from old pipes leaked into the water system, leading to poor water quality. Between 2014 and 2015, there were nearly 100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area, including 12 deaths.
The four others charged for the 2015 death of Robert Skidmore are already facing charges: Darnell Earley was Flint’s emergency manager when the city was using the river water, Howard Croft ran Flint’s public works department, and Liane Shekter Smith and Stephen Busch were state environmental regulators.
Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical officer, was also charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator.
Fifteen current or former government officials now face charges in the Flint probe, but Lyon is the highest-ranking official to have been charged since it began in 2016.