Year later, Flint water criminal cases move slowly in court

Jan 11, 2022, 9:46 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2022, 5:12 pm

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — An attorney for Michigan’s former health director urged a judge Wednesday to dismiss involuntary manslaughter charges arising from the 2014-15 Flint water crisis, saying the criminal case would have a chilling effect on public employees at all levels of government.

This week marks a year since an unprecedented indictment against former Gov. Rick Snyder as well as charges against senior members of his administration. The cases, however, are moving slowly, bogged down by disputes over millions of documents and even whether a Flint court is the proper venue.

Snyder, a Republican, is charged with willful neglect of duty arising from decisions to switch Flint’s water supply to the Flint River without treating it to reduce the corrosive effect on aging urban pipes. Lead contaminated the system, a disastrous result in the majority Black community.

Snyder’s name was the biggest in indictments against nine people, although he’s facing misdemeanors while others are dealing with more serious charges.

Indeed, former health chief Nick Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter, related to nine deaths blamed on Legionnaires’ disease during the water switch. Some experts have pointed to bacteria in the river water for the outbreak.

A Genesee County judge heard arguments over whether the charges should stick.

Prosecutors insist Lyon can be held criminally responsible because he knew about a rise in Legionnaires’ cases in 2015 but didn’t disclose it publicly for another 12 months. Dr. Eden Wells, who was Michigan’s chief medical executive, faces the same charges.

But attorney John Bursch said Lyon was an administrator, not a scientist, and owed no legal duty to individual members of the public.

Bursch acknowledged that Lyon was told about the uptick. He said Lyon ordered state experts to investigate the cause and breadth of the illnesses and notify Flint-area health officials.

“Frankly, it makes me angry when they say he didn’t do anything” when told about Legionnaires’, Bursch said, referring to prosecutors.

He warned Judge Elizabeth Kelly that she could be held liable for injuries in her courtroom if security was lax, under the state’s theory of the case against Lyon.

“You should not be the first judge in this state’s 185-year judicial history to impose such incredibly broad criminal liability on government employees,” Bursch said.

But Assistant Attorney General Chris Kessel said Lyon could have taken a different path in 2015: Be candid with Michigan residents.

“People panic when the truth is hidden from them because then they don’t know what to believe,” Kessel told the judge. “When people are told the truth they can take that information in and they can act accordingly. How they act, that’s up to them.”

Kelly didn’t make an immediate decision.

Snyder, who led the state for eight years until 2019, is the first current or former Michigan governor to be charged with crimes related to their time in office.

Snyder has acknowledged that the Flint water switch, pushed by city managers whom he appointed, and subsequent lead contamination were tragic, but he has denied any personal wrongdoing.

His legal team has attacked the case on several fronts, starting with location. Defense attorneys claim he can’t be charged in a Flint court with neglect of duty when Snyder worked miles away in Ingham County. That argument so far has failed, though an appeal is pending.

“At this rate, none of the nine defendants can reasonably expect a trial date until at least 2024,” said Jason Brown, spokesman for Snyder’s lawyers.

He said the case has been a “complete waste of taxpayer resources.”

Prosecutors have lost key court decisions involving documents that were seized from state offices during the investigation. Search warrants apparently swept up records that include confidential communications involving lawyers during the Snyder administration, including Flint water issues and even the Detroit bankruptcy.

Kelly recently ordered the attorney general’s office to set up an independent team to comb through records that could violate attorney-client privilege. It could cost millions of dollars.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office accused defense lawyers of discouraging the “pursuit of justice through delay tactics.”

“Our priority is the people of Flint,” Lynsey Mukomel said.


Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lead water pipes pulled from underneath the street are seen in Newark, N.J., Oct. 21, 2021. (AP Pho...

Associated Press

Biden to require cities to replace harmful lead pipes within 10 years

The Biden administration has previously said it wants all of the nation's roughly 9 million lead pipes to be removed, and rapidly.

2 days ago

Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Oct. 28, 2...

Associated Press

Meta shuts down thousands of fake Facebook accounts that were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Meta said it removed 4789 Facebook accounts in China that targeted the United States before next year’s election.

2 days ago

A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

6 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

10 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

10 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University: innovating Arizona health care education

Midwestern University’s Glendale Campus near Loop 101 and 59th Avenue is an established leader in health care education and one of Arizona’s largest and most valuable health care resources.

Year later, Flint water criminal cases move slowly in court