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2 ex-health officials charged with manslaughter in Flint

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Two former Michigan health officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis.

Posted: Jan 14, 2021 2:05 PM

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Two former Michigan health officials were charged Thursday with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis, as prosecutors revisiting how the city’s water system was contaminated with lead and bacteria also hammered a key adviser to ex-Gov. Rick Snyder with extortion and perjury crimes.

Snyder joined a parade of former state and local officials pleading not guilty in Genesee County courts. He's facing misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint in a case that was filed Wednesday night, the first governor or former governor in Michigan’s 184-year history to face charges related to time in that office.

All charges stemmed from evidence presented to Judge David Newblatt, who served as a secret one-person grand jury. Special prosecutor Fadwa Hammoud of the attorney general's office declined to offer details during a news conference but said Snyder had “failed to protect the health and safety” of Flint's nearly 100,000 residents.

“There are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system,” Hammoud said. “Nobody — no matter how powerful or well-connected — is above accountability when they commit a crime.”

Wearing a mask, Snyder, 62, said little during his brief hearing, which was conducted by video. He replied, “Yes, your honor,” when asked if he was living in Michigan. A conviction carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Defense attorney Brian Lennon called the case a “travesty.”

"These unjustified allegations do nothing to resolve a painful chapter in the history of our state," Lennon said in a written statement. "Today’s actions merely perpetrate an outrageous political persecution.”

Former state health director Nick Lyon and former state medical executive Eden Wells were each charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Snyder, a Republican, was governor from 2011 through 2018. The former computer executive pitched himself as a problem-solving “nerd” who eschewed partisan politics and favored online dashboards to show performance in government. Flint turned out to be the worst chapter of his two terms due to a series of catastrophic decisions that will affect residents for years.

The indictment against Snyder alleges that he failed to check the “performance, condition and administration” of his appointees and protect Flint from disaster when he knew the threat. In 2014, a Snyder-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who was running the struggling, majority Black city, carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.

The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes.

Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. Flint’s woes were highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

Prosecutors charged Earley with misconduct in office. Rich Baird, a friend and close adviser to Snyder, was charged with extortion, perjury and obstruction of justice. Jarrod Agen, who was communications director before going to work for Vice President Mike Pence, was charged with perjury. He subsequently left government for a job with a defense contractor.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County during the water switch, including 12 deaths. Some experts found there was not enough chlorine in Flint's water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

It's the second time that Lyon and Wells have been charged with manslaughter, but the earlier cases didn't involve as many deaths. They were accused in 2017 of failing to timely warn the public about the outbreak, but the cases were dropped by prosecutors when they decided to take a fresh look at evidence.

An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

Defense attorney Chip Chamberlain said Lyon relied on the advice of experts when following the Legionnaires' spike and forming public policy as head of a sprawling health agency.

“This is a dangerous day for state employees,” Chamberlain said.

The criminal investigation has lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. Todd Flood, who got misdemeanor convictions from seven people, was ousted in 2019 after the election of Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat. She turned to Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who subsequently dropped charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would start over. They said the first team had failed to collect all available evidence.

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis. A judge said she hopes to decide by Jan. 21 whether to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are pending.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 294994

Reported Deaths: 6681
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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