Justice

Flint Residents Just Scored a Big Victory in Their Fight For Justice

At least five people have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in an investigation into the infamous Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

dirty-water

The state's Director of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon was one of the people charged in connection with the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, who developed Legionnaires' disease and died, allegedly in connection to the contaminated water.

The charging documents allege Lyon said, "he can't save everyone" and "everyone has to die of something" when he was informed about the Legionnaires' outbreak that killed Skidmore. It also alleges that he "disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak." Investigators claimed that Lyon and other officials knew about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, a potentially deadly bacterial infection, in connection with the bad water, but did nothing to alert the public.

If convicted, Lyon could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, according to ABC News.

There were four other people charged with manslaughter. They're reportedly already facing different charges in connection with the Flint crisis:

  • Howard Croft, who was the head of Flint's Public Works Department.
  • Darnell Earley, Flint's former emergency manager.
  • Liane Shekter Smith an environmental regulator.
  • Stephen Busch, who was also an environmental regulator.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer, according to local affiliate WZZM.

People on Twitter were overwhelmingly supportive of the charges.

The water crisis, which mostly affected minorities and low-income residents, first started in 2014 after the city's water source was switched under state management to save money. The switch caused pipes to corrode, leaking lead into the water supply, and residents were exposed to the contaminants for more than a year. There have been accusations of a cover up by city and state employees.

At least 15 government officials have faced criminal charges in the ensuing investigation, but the involuntary manslaughter charges are some of the most serious so far. Lyon is the highest ranking member of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration to be charged.

"The health crisis in Flint has created a trust crisis for Michigan government, exposing a serious lack of confidence in leaders who accept responsibility and solve problems," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

dirty-water

In a statement on his office website, Snyder made a supportive statement about his officials stressing that they are "presumed innocent until proven guilty."

"Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint's recovery," he said in the statement. "They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS."

Flint Rising water activist Nayyirah Shariff said that the charges against Lyon and others are important but not enough.

The Flint resident said she would like to see the investigation go all the way to the top because "there's something fishy going on" in her opinion. She believes more government officials could have been involved in the alleged cover up. 

"While I'm happy that this investigation is ongoing, Dr. Eden Wells and Nick Lyons are in cabinet positions that report to Gov. Snyder, so somebody is lying," she said. "I will say, that it says something about the governor's leadership if everyone under you knows something and you don't."

Criminal investigation aside, Flint residents say they still can't use the city's water, but they're receiving water bills.

"Although this is an important announcement, Flint residents still have to use bottled water to meet their daily needs. They still have to drive around and get bottled water from the state sponsored site," Shariff said. "We're still living our lives, and we still continue to be charged premium prices for water that we cannot use."

ATTN: reached out to Snyder's office about Shariff's comments, and Deputy Press Secretary Tanya Baker said that the city's water "meets all federal water quality standards under the Lead and Copper Rule and Safe Drinking Water Act," and that the state provides water filters and filter replacement cartridges to its residents. The implications about Snyder's leadership were not addressed. 

RELATED: There's Already a Movie in the Works About the Flint Water Crisis