On Wednesday, Michigan’s Attorney General announced it will charge Nick Lyon, the Health and Human Services Director, with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the Flint water crisis. During the crisis, caused in part by substandard water treatment, 100,000 residents were exposed to elevated levels of lead, a dangerous neurotoxin, and were at elevated risk for legionnaire’s disease, a waterborne illness linked to 14 deaths in the city since 2014.
Although other government officials have faced criminal charges during ongoing investigations, Lyon is the highest-ranking state employee and the one with the most severe charge. Local outlet Michigan Live reports that Attorney General Bill Schuette will charge Lyon with one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of misconduct in office.
In 2014, while Lyon was still HHS Director, Flint changed its primary water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to cut costs. Lyon is accused of being aware that the Flint River had higher than acceptable lead levels. Last April, Lyon testified that the spikes in lead detected in the Flint River in early 2015 were consistent with spikes seen in previous years and immediately concerning to the HHS.
Although the EPA has determined that lead levels in the city have returned to acceptable standards, residents are still wary of drinking tap water. Flint is replacing lead pipes throughout the city and overhauling its water infrastructure, though the project will take at least until 2020.
Correction 2PM 6/14/17: A previous version of this post erroneously stated that Nick Lyon was the “former” HHS director. State employees confirm that Lyon is still the HHS director and will continue in the role as the criminal case proceeds.
Update 9AM 6/16/17: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has confirmed both Nick Lyon and Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, who faces an obstruction of justice charge, will remain in their positions as their criminal cases proceeds. Lawyers for both officials say they plan to contest the charges.
In a statement, Snyder voices support for both officials:
Nick Lyon has been a strong leader at the Department of Health and Human Services for the past several years and remains completely committed to Flint’s recovery. 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.
Some state employees were charged over a year ago and have been suspended from work since that time. They still have not had their day in court. That is not justice for Flint nor for those who have been charged. 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.