Search for Justice Heats Up As Attorneys Weigh Criminal Charges in Flint Crisis
Family of poisoned two-year-old files federal suit against top Michigan officials including Governor Rick Snyder
The search for justice for victims of the Flint water crisis is heating up this week after investigators announced that they are weighing criminal charges while a new lawsuit, filed on behalf of a poisoned child, implicates those officials at the very top.
During a press conference in Lansing on Tuesday, attorney Todd Flood, a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor who was tapped by the Michigan attorney general to lead the investigation, said they are considering charges including "gross negligence, involuntary manslaughter, and misconduct in office" against those responsible for the lead-tainted water.
Flood explained that even in the case where someone made an "honest mistake," that individual could still be charged with breaking civil or criminal laws if they turned a "blind eye" on the problem, rather than work to protect potential victims, the Detroit Free Press reports.
In fact, a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court accuses Michigan's top officials, including Governor Rick Snyder and former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, of "failing to act" despite knowledge of the dangerously high lead levels in the city's water supply.
Flint resident Luke Waid filed the suit after learning that his two-year-old daughter is one of the thousands of children now suffering from lead poisoning after the city, under the control of the state-appointed emergency manager, switched its water source to the Flint River as a temporary cost-cutting measure.
Waid told the Free Press that his children "don't have a voice of their own so I have to be their voice. I have to stand behind my children. If I didn't feel so betrayed, I wouldn't have brought it this far." According to the suit, daughter Sophia "has experienced serious physical and emotional issues due to the contaminated water, including skin rashes, digestive problems, infections, excessive crying and irritability and the inability to sleep at night."
"Even when these officials knew of a lead problem, they failed to act, thus resulting in an epidemic of lead poisoning," said attorney Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates. This suit marks the first individual case on behalf of Flint residents, though it is one of a number that has been brought against Michigan officials in recent weeks.
Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette on Tuesday also called on lawmakers to amend the governor's exemption from the state's open-records law and thus force the release of all internal documents related to Flint water.
Michigan is one of just two states with a blanket exemption for the governor’s office to the Freedom of Information Act. Government accountability group Common Cause Michigan says that this has allowed Snyder to "hide" certain correspondence that might indicate that he or his staff knew more about Flint's lead-tainted water than they have let on.
Last month, Snyder released his personal emails from 2014 and 2015 pertaining to Flint, but not the correspondence among his staff.