FLINT (WJRT) (8/20/2018) – Michigan’s top public health official will stand trial for the deaths of two men, who allegedly died of Legionnaires’ disease tied to the Flint water crisis.
Judge David Goggins issued a ruling Monday sending Nick Lyon’s criminal case to a full trial. The ruling means Goggins believes there is enough valid evidence for a jury to consider.
The ruling came at the end of a 10-month preliminary hearing that started in September and wrapped up in early July after more than 25 days of testimony.
Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter, willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office for the deaths of John Snyder and Robert Skidmore. Both men allegedly died from Legionnaires’ disease caused by Flint switching its drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
Prosecutors argued Lyon, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director, waited too long to alert the public to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint during the water crisis. He allegedly knew about the outbreak in early 2015 but waited nearly a full year before alerting the public.
Lyon’s defense attorneys argued he was not negligent in the men’s deaths and that prosecuting a public official who did his best amid a wide-ranging crisis would have a chilling effect on other public employees doing their duties.
In a statement issued moments after Monday's ruling, Gov. Rick Snyder praised Lyon's work during the Flint water crisis and said Lyon would remain on the job as Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director during the trial.
"Like every other person who is charged with a crime, he should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Snyder said.
Reaction from other local elected officials came swiftly:
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver
"The residents of Flint have been waiting to feel like their lives matter. We cannot ever recover the time spent trying to understand the extent of this tragedy, nor make up for the trauma both mentally and physically behind this man made crisis. The people of Flint have been traumatized by the actions, or lack of actions, by State officials. This is a good step on the road to recovery and healing for the people of Flint. I hope that the State continues to be held accountable for the State's decisions. What happened in Flint cannot and should not happen anywhere else in this country, especially in the state of Michigan. This sends the message that lives are more important than dollars and to consider people over both profit and policy."
State Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint
“Judge Goggins made the right decision, and this is one step forward on the very long road to justice for the people of Flint. I have said from the beginning that anyone who played a role in harming my city—no matter who—needs to be held accountable for their actions. The MDHHS director has the serious responsibility of watching out for the health of all Michiganders, and the reality is that he helped cover up a crisis and lied to an entire poisoned city.”
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, a Democrat from Flint
“For years, I have been calling on Director Lyon to step down or be removed from his post, as he has proven time and again he is incapable of protecting Michigan residents. Instead, he has been protected by Gov. Rick Snyder, even as people died on his watch. Today’s decision is a meaningful step toward long-awaited justice for the people of Flint and those who lost their lives due to Lyon’s poor leadership, and a clear sign that he should no longer be heading the state’s Health and Human Services Department. As we endure this humanitarian crisis, I will continue speaking out against the Snyder-Schuette administration and insist that those responsible for harming our community are held accountable. Only when the people of Flint receive the justice they deserve will we finally be able to work toward finding healing in our community. That is why I am calling on all elected officials, clergy members and community members to stand in support of Flint as we continue to mobilize for our ongoing fight for justice.”
State Rep. Phil Phelps, a Democrat from Flushing
“As the leader of his department, Director Lyon is responsible for the actions — or inactions — of himself and his employees, which in this case led to the loss of life in our community. The people of Flint have waited more than four years to finally see those responsible for the water crisis held accountable for their careless and grave mistakes. I could not be more pleased that the judge is allowing justice to move forward.”