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Schuette says probe into Flint water crisis turning to trial phase, but won’t rule out more charges

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton sit across a table from reporter Rick Pluta.
Rick Pluta
Schuette (center) said he thinks there are some people who would like to see the Flint water crisis investigation come to an end, but he said, "I'm going to do my job" as the state's head law enforcement official.

New charges have been filed in the Flint water crisis – this time in connection with the Legionnaires' outbreak that killed 12 people and sickened 78 more in Genesee County.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette joined Stateside? to discuss the new charges and the latest on the investigation.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office. Both are felonies. The involuntary manslaughter charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“Mr. Lyon…failed to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Michigan, and that’s why we filed these charges,” Schuette said.

“We feel he had a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Michigan, and he knew he had that duty,” Leyton said. “He willfully neglected or refused to perform that duty, and we’re prepared to prove that in court.”

Dr. Eden Wells, the state's Chief Medical Executive, is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.

Involuntary manslaughter charges have also been added to charges already filed against four other officials: former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, former Department of Environmental Quality officials Liane Shekter-Smith and Stephen Busch, and former Flint water manager Howard Croft.

The manslaughter charges are all related to the death of Mt. Morris resident Robert Skidmore, who died in December 2015.  

“We certainly have probable cause the crime was committed,” Leyton said. “Mr. Skidmore was a GM retiree living in Mt. Morris. He worked in the shop for many years. Kind of, if you will, a typical Genesee County type. A good salt-of-the-earth kind of fellow who contracted Legionnaires' and sadly died from it.”

“This is about families of Flint,” Schuette said. “Children have been exposed to lead poisoning. People in this state and people in Flint deserve a full and complete investigation. Our mission is, if laws have been broken, then people who violated those laws have to be held accountable.”

Schuette said the investigation was peer reviewed by numerous current and former litigators, and he is confident there is enough evidence to establish probable cause. The attorney general said he believes state officials who have pending charges related to the Flint water crisis could see court dates this fall.

Leyton said the investigation is ongoing, and he could consider bringing more charges related to other deaths believed to be caused by Legionnaires' if there is sufficient evidence.

Governor Snyder released a statement that Lyon and Wells will continue to work in their capacities at DHHS and will not be placed on leave.

“Director Lyon and Dr. Eden Wells, like every other person who has been charged with a crime by Bill Schuette, are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Snyder said in a statement. “Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint's recovery. They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS.”

Schuette said today’s announcement of charges is a major milestone for the investigation.

“It marks the completion of the criminal phase of the investigation as we turn and shift to the prosecutorial, the trial phase of the investigation,” Schuette said. “But like any proper federal or state investigation, our team of lawyers and investigators will continue to pursue evidence and do their job, and also respond to any tips or information that are presented.”

Asked whether that means that there won’t be charges filed against Snyder or any of the governor’s top aides, Schuette wouldn’t say.

“We don’t have a check list as to who should be charged with a crime and who should not be. That’s not how it works," he said. 

Listen to the entire conversation with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton above.

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