For the first time, a government official has been indicted for deaths resulting from the Flint water crisis in Michigan. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Nick Lyon is charged with the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder, both of Genesee County.
Lyon will stand trial for two counts of involuntary manslaughter of both men who died of Legionnaires’ disease and one count of misconduct in office. The judge’s decision to allow Lyon to face charges means the judge found probable cause between Lyon’s neglect of duty and the deaths of both Skidmore and Snyder.
Nick Lyon Is the Highest Ranking Government Official Charged in Flint Water Crisis
Since the water crisis in Flint started in 2014, no government official or city worker has been convicted of any criminal wrongdoing in connection to the water problem. Lyon’s indictment is the first time a judge has weighed in on criminal misconduct by state and local officials in connection to the Flint water issue.
Fifteen other city and state government officials, as well as former employees, have been charged with criminal wrongdoing in connection to the Flint water crisis, but Lyon is the highest-ranking member of the government of all of them. He is a member of Gov. Rick Synder’s cabinet and is answering the charges leveled against him while still working. Four of the 15 cases agreed to plea deals, and nine others are still pending. One other case is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on August 28th.
What has made Lyon’s indictment so significant is the fact that a high-ranking government official is actually being held accountable for deaths caused by his neglect in office, something that is a rarity in the U.S. As Esquire illustrated, when a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas decimating the town and killing 15 people, nobody was charged criminally.
Lyon Fails to Protect Public, Creates Flint Water Crisis
According to special prosecutor Todd Flood, Lyon failed to protect the public when he could have changed the source of Flint’s water after it became apparent there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Further condemning Lyon, prosecutors allege that Lyon prevented researchers from investigating the source of the Legionnaires’ disease crises in an attempt to cover up the connection to the Flint River.
The DHHS has maintained that exposure to McLaren-Flint hospital and not Flint water is the cause of the surge in Legionnaires. However, two university studies stated that the Flint River was the source of the epidemic.
Further investigations revealed the DHHS was aware that rising cases of Legionnaires’ disease became apparent after the city switched its water source, but it took Lyon over a year to brief the governor directly in January of 2016.
Witnesses testifying in Lyon’s case include current and former DHHS employees, doctors and Legionnaires’ researchers from Wayne State University. One witness testified that Lyon said to him during a 2016 meeting about Flint water, “We can’t save everyone, everyone has to die of something’ … or something similar to that.”
Legionnaires’ disease is an acute, sometimes fatal, lobar pneumonia caused by bacteria and characterized by fever, muscle and chest pain, as well as headache, chills and dry cough. The outbreak of the disease was first recorded at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976.