Special Agent Jeff Seipenko walks out of the courtroom with signed paperwork in hand after Genesee District Judge David Guinn authorized charges Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Flint, Mich., for Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells in relation to the Flint water crisis. Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area, which has been linked by some experts to poor water quality in 2014-15. Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. (Jake May/The Flint via AP)

Five public officials in Michigan, including the current head of the state’s health department, were charged with involuntary manslaughter due to alleged failure to act in response to the ongoing Flint Water Crisis, authorities announced.

The felony charges all stem from the Legionnaire's Disease death of an 85-year-old man in December 2015.

Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was additionally charged with another felony count: misconduct in office.

Darnell Early, the former Flint emergency manager, former Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, the Drinking Water Chief of the state Department of Environmental Quality Liane Shekter-Smith, and the DEQ’s Water Supervisor Stephen Busch were the other four charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The involuntary manslaughter charge is punishable up to 15 years in prison, and a $7,500 fine. Lyon’s additional misconduct count carries another 5 years in prison, according to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Although multiple died of Legionnaire’s Disease as the water quality problems mounted following the city’s switch from Detroit water to the Flint River source, the involuntary manslaughter charges are in connection with the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore. The eldlerly man died of Legionnaire’s after others had come down with the disease or died – but no public outbreak notice had been issued before he was sickened.

The authorities allege that Lyon knew of the Legionnaire’s outbreak – but took almost a year to notify the public. The state authorities also allege Lyon caused Skidmore’s death by the failure to notify – and that Lyon also repeatedly attempted to prevent an independent researcher from investigating the cause of the outbreak.

Busch told the public that Flint’s drinking water was safe for a year, despite knowing of the outbreak, authorities allege. (Busch has previously been charged with felony misconduct in office, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and two misdemeanor counts).

Nick Lyon, Michigan Health and Human Services Director, was charged Wednesday, June 14, 2017, with involuntary manslaughter in a criminal investigation of Flint's lead-contaminated water.
(AP Photo/David Eggert)

Shekter-Smith failed to order the problematic drinking water plant shut down. (She previously was charged with felony misconduct).

Croft, who led Flint’s public works department, could have ensured proper water disinfectant was applied, or switched back to Detroit water. (Croft allegedly pressured a water treatment plant operator to keep using the facility. Previous charges against Croft include felony false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses).

Earley refused to switch back to Detroit water, despite the unfolding health crisis, authorities allege. (Early was previously charged with felony false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office and a misdemeanor). 

Also charged is Eden Wells, the current chief medical executive of the state health department. She has been charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer after allegedly withholding funding for victims of the crisis, and lying to investigators.

The spiraling health issues came as a result of a cost-savings plan.

The embattled “Vehicle City” first switched the local water source from nearby Detroit to that of the closer Flint River in April 2014. Within months, there were reports of illness and water quality issues. The reports went ignored for most of a year before officials issued warnings.

A series of city officials decided that switching from Detroit water to its own controlled source from Lake Huron would save the city money in the long-run. However, they had to have a stop-gap plan for the two years it would take to get the infrastructure in place.

The spigot from the Flint River was turned on April 25, 2014. But the river water was fundamentally different than the Detroit water—and also different from the future source of Lake Huron.

The Flint River has a lower pH, and a different alkalinity. This was not a problem for much of the iron service mains in the city, which provide most of the longer-distance carrying. But many of the service lines in the city—the older and shorter pipes running from the mains to the individual buildings and residences—were made of lead.

The chemical incantation was cast. The lower pH of the river water allowed the lead scale and lead ions to become more soluble in the water running to taps all over the city, said David Hand, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at Michigan Technological University, in an interview last year with Laboratory Equipment.