It’s Manslaughter


Last week, as you’ve probably heard, five people in Michigan were charged with involuntary manslaughter for circumstances related to the Flint water crisis—specifically for their failure to sound the alert about increases in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease. It’s believed that pipes corroded by the city’s new source of water allowed bacteria that cause the disease to flourish; at least 12 people died. Prosecutors say the officials knew about the outbreak for up to a year without notifying the public.

In total, 15 state and city officials are now facing a variety of charges, including obstruction of justice, lying to an officer, willful neglect of duty, misconduct, and conspiracy. Some of these charges carry potential jail terms of up to 20 years.

Cities and counties are sometimes sued for negligence or failure to maintain facilities—we covered a recent case related to a stormwater culvert here. But it’s unusual for individuals to be charged for crimes such as these in relation to their jobs. Legal experts are calling the involuntary manslaughter charges nearly unprecedented. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, is defending the members of his cabinet who are charged with manslaughter and letting them keep their jobs even as members of the public are calling for them to be removed.

There are many unprecedented things about the Flint situation. What’s your opinion: Are the charges against specific individuals justified? And based on this case, would you expect to see similar charges brought more frequently in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For a thorough discussion of the case, please see this week’s Water Efficiency blog, where editor Laura Sanchez examines the charges in detail. SW_bug_web

  • Tim Lewis.

    If you prosecute such folks who are making average salaries, i.e., not the big salaries for taking big risks, you won’t be able to hire folks to take these jobs. If prosecutors want to prosecute public servants who may or may not have had control of the finances that would have allowed them to “fix” the problem, then prosecutors should support prosecuting prosecutors who neglect their responsibilities by putting people in jail who turn out to be innocent. Their job is to seek justice and if they prosecute someone who is innocent because they are too lazy to find the truth, then they should pay for their mistake as well as other public servants. Turn about is fair play!

    Negligence of responsibility with regard to the health and lives of others should not be ignored, however, mitigating circumstances should be fairly considered.

    • Andy Tilton.

      Agree with comments. EPA released large quantities of mine water into a stream. Any private company would have been charged and most likely found guilty and fined.

  • Adriana Schnoebelen.

    Governor Rick Snyder should be on the list of folks charged with manslaughter. Especially since he has the power to have rectified this problem. I also think the pattern of violations against the citizenry of Flint, Michigan, made it justified to file charges against the individuals involved in the cover up of the problems.

    • Michael A. Marullo.

      The governor and his band of GOP cost-cutters are ultimately responsible for this tragedy. If not for his arbitrary — and totally uninformed — decision to cut costs by changing the source of supply, none of this would have happened!! The bureaucrats always skate!

  • Roger Griffin.

    “… to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17 Those in charge are responsible for the for the actions of subordinates; that’s why they make the big(ger) bucks.

  • Trina Dobson.

    Time that public officials take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously instead of lining up against the public to control outcomes. Got my T shirt I just hope I get Justice.

  • Dennis Fleming.

    It appears that the cost of a trial can be saved. Those charged have been convicted by media editors.

  • Robert Hamilton.

    There are a lot of things involved in this mess. There is a money trail and that needs to be followed. There was a new water line to get fresh water Instead of buying from the Detroit Water and Sewer. It was going to be cheaper in the long run if Detroit water and sewer kept the same rate. When the contract came due to renew with Detroit Water and Sewer. They never asked for a rate reduction and they were already committed to the new water system. So they told Detroit water no thanks. It is whoever made these decisions that needs to be looked at.. Why did they not try to negotiate with detroit water and sewer. Detroit water and sewer proposed many changes that would have been lower rate than the new water line cost for 20 years, and still they said no. So there is a lot more to look at and still not sure if the courts are looking at the right people . Is Flint City council responsible for the decisions?? Many questions still unanswered.

  • Richard W Goodwin.

    I hold a Professional Engineering License in several states and I practice as an Environmental Engineering Consultant. When I seal a design, permit application or other document and it fails I could be subject to third degree homicide by jury of my peers. Officials in Flint MI who allegedly were derelict in their duty and are charged with involuntary manslaughter seem to be subject to same penalty that PEs are faced with. Engineers take their license seriously and maintain an oath to benefit to the society whose projects they create and implement – indicted Flint officials should be placed under the same mandate.

  • Dr Edo McGowan.

    An underlying issue is whether there are things in the water that current water quality standards don’t or can not see. Additionally, many of those in the water industry simply do not have the training to deal with this—-in California, these topics are not required. The old MPN lab test was basically for clean rain falling onto forests, thence to clean systems. That has not been the case for a long time yet this is over looked. Sewers which are down stream from hospitals combine pathogens and resistance with microbes that, in nature, might seldom get together for gene swapping. Show me where the average staff of treatment works study this? These multi-drug resistant microbes are vastly multiplied in the excellent conditions found within a sewer plant. Once allowed for such gene transfer (the sewer plant) they are then discharged back into the aquatic environment (your drinking water). Show me where this, as a subject, is in the training of these plant workers? So————you have a basic disconnect between what is now in (actually missing from) the standards and what is needed to protect public health. There is the lack of requisite training generally, along with standards reflective of highlighting risk, and thus the enhanced chance of a disease loosened via water?


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