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2 Top Michigan Officials Face Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis

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2 Top Michigan Officials Face Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis

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2 Top Michigan Officials Face Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis

2 Top Michigan Officials Face Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis

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The director of the state's Department of Health and Human Services, Nick Lyon, and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells are the highest-ranking state officials to be charged in the crisis.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Michigan, two high-ranking state officials face serious charges for keeping an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease from the public. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta has been following the story.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Involuntary manslaughter - it's the most serious criminal charge yet filed related to the Flint water crisis.

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BILL SCHUETTE: People of Flint have died as a result of the decisions made by those responsible to protect the health and safety of families.

PLUTA: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says State Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon knew about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease and said nothing for more than a year. Schuette also charged Michigan Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells with obstructing justice and lying to a police officer about when she first knew of the danger.

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SCHUETTE: These charges reflect the deaths which have occurred and the conduct which caused these deaths in the city of Flint.

PLUTA: The outbreak which caused a dozen deaths occurred not long after the city switched water supplies. That caused lead contamination of the water. Prosecutors say the switch also created the conditions that led to the Legionnaires' outbreak.

All this happened while Flint was being run by state-appointed emergency managers who were looking for ways to save money. Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley and three other state officials who have already been charged with other crimes now also face involuntary manslaughter charges.

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KAREN WEAVER: We're happy that justice is taking place.

PLUTA: Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says it's time officials who made decisions that led to the water crisis are held accountable.

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WEAVER: Because this is terrible. This is terrible what's happened in the city of Flint. But we wanted some accountability. We said - we've had people who have lost their lives. In addition to what's happened with the lead poisoning, we've had people die of Legionnellas (ph).

PLUTA: Not far away from the press conference, people are browsing and eating at the Totem bookstore and cafe. The people I spoke to, including Ocean Alexander, say the water crisis has largely faded as a topic of daily conversation. She says people just want it fixed.

OCEAN ALEXANDER: It's just a sad situation, you know? A lot of us is choked up because we don't understand. How could this have happened and for so long? And yet people are still in office. That's really ridiculous.

PLUTA: These are the most serious charges yet filed related to the water crisis and the most high-reaching. The Health and Human Services director and the chief medical executive are appointed by the governor. Schuette is an elected attorney general and is widely expected to run for governor next year. Governor Rick Snyder won't run because he's term limited. In a video posted online, Snyder defended his cabinet members.

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RICK SNYDER: Nick Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be fully committed to Flint's recovery. They have my full faith and confidence.

PLUTA: And Snyder added they will remain on the job. He says they deserve to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Flint.

(SOUNDBITE OF FALLSS' "BAYONNE")

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