DETROIT (CN) – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Wednesday charged the head of the state health department with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the Flint water crisis and related Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, and also charged others associated with the lead-contamination scandal that has plagued the distressed city for more than three years.
Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is accused of having knowledge of the presence of the deadly disease one year before he shared the news publicly.
The charges focus on Robert Skidmore, 85, who died after many others were already diagnosed with the disease. Lyon allegedly participated in a cover-up during efforts to prevent an independent researcher from examining the water in Flint.
Schuette said at a press conference Wednesday that Lyon “failed in his responsibilities” and “failed to inform the public.”
The attorney general also said this was the biggest criminal investigation in Michigan’s modern history. He said more than 250 people were interviewed and more than 100,000 emails were reviewed.
He also said there are 51 charges pending against 15 individuals so far.
“It’s time to focus the lens on the people of Flint” who were let down by “a failure of government,” Schuette said to numerous television cameras.
The attorney general said Wednesday he will also bring involuntary manslaughter charges against former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and Water Supervisor Stephen Busch.
Earley and Shekter-Smith are each already accused of misconduct in office and neglect of duty, while Earley also faces prior charges of false pretenses.
Croft too was previously charged with false pretenses, and Busch is also accused of misconduct in office, tampering with evidence and violations of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.
Eden Wells, chief medical executive from the Department of Health and Human Services, was also charged with lying to a peace officer and obstruction of justice for allegedly hindering an investigation of the Flint water contamination. Wells is accused of withholding funding for programs designed to assist citizens during the crisis.
Schuette was joined at the press conference by Special Counsel Todd Flood, former Detroit FBI agent Andrew Arena and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
Leyton said the team had “vetted the charges carefully” and “today you will see where the evidence took us.”
Schuette was asked about the ongoing investigation and how it relates to Gov. Rick Snyder, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The attorney general said he heard from several citizens about Snyder, both good and bad. While there are no charges against the governor “at this time,” Schuette said “we’ll continue to be aggressive.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver issued a statement after the press conference that “anyone who had a part in the man-made water disaster that occurred in the City of Flint needs to be held accountable.”
“The deaths that happened because of Legionnaires’ disease has been yet another tragedy the people of Flint have been faced with as a result of the water crisis. Manslaughter is a serious charge. It’s good to see that state Attorney General Schuette and his team are taking this matter seriously by bringing such serious charges against those who they believe didn’t do enough to address this public health threat, or to alert the Flint community about it,” Weaver said. “I hope that Flint residents will see these charges and know that the fight for justice continues. We all are waiting to see what else the investigation uncovers.”