FLINT, Mich. (WJBK) - Criminal charges against the highest-ranking official in the governor's cabinet so far were announced Wednesday in connection with the Flint water crisis.
Nick Lyon, head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office.
Prosecutors say he's accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area. Some experts link that to poor water quality in 2014-15. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Lyon is also accused of obstructing researchers studying if the rise in Legionnaires cases was linked to the Flint River.
The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, was charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator.
An involuntary manslaughter charge was also issued against four other officials already facing charges in the case:
- Stephen Busch, former supervisor of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Office of Drinking Water
- Liane Shekter Smith, former head of MDEQ's Drinking water and Municipal Assistance unit
- Howard Croft, former Director of Public Works
- Darnell Earley, former Flint Emergency Manager
"Involuntary manslaughter is a very serious crime ... and holds significant gravity and weight for all involved. I don't take this lightly, not one bit, and I know there will significant impact on those charged and their families," Schuette said.
Watch the proceeding below:
Along with announcing new charges, officials say this marks the beginning of the next step in the process - the trial phase.
Schuette did take a moment to address what some might call the elephant in the room, a question often asked: Why hasn't Snyder been charged?
"I've met with people angry and frustrated, demanding that I charge, and I've heard from some who believe I've been too harsh on the Snyder administration -- well so be it," he said. "We only file criminal charges when evidence of probable cause to commit a crime has been established. And we're not filing charges at this time."
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Todd Flood, former Wayne County assistant prosecutor and special prosecutor in this case, said this is a case of a willful disregard of due diligence, and the case will head to court.
"There is not a winner or a loser in this case. This is a case where due process has to take its course," he said.
When they began investigating, it was not a "witch hunt," but instead followed the evidence that brought these charges, says chief investigator Andy Arena, former director of the Detroit FBI office.
"We are seeing that people didn't just make mistakes, the people willfully or intentionally failed to do what they were supposed to do, and people were hurt. People died," he said.
Schuette also said the highest priority should be proper funding to conduct the investigation.
"The health crisis in Flint has created a trust crisis in Michigan government," Schuette said.