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Another former government official takes the Fifth at the Flint water crisis bellwether civil trial

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Steve Carmody
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Michigan Radio

On Wednesday, yet another former government official invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination during a Flint water crisis civil trial.

The trial involves claims by four Flint children against two engineering firms (Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam) hired to consult on Flint’s water system. The claims involve exposure to high lead levels in the city’s drinking water.

Defense attorneys have tried to show government officials and agencies are to blame for the decisions which led to Flint’s drinking water becoming contaminated.

Nancy Peeler managed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Early Childhood Health section during Flint’s lead tainted drinking water crisis.

On the witness stand, Peeler refused to answer questions directed at her by the judge or attorneys.

“On advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer based on the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Peeler repeatedly said when asked questions, ranging from her knowledge of children's blood lead data and even her own job title.

Nancy Peeler is among nine former government officials still the subject of a criminal probe. The Michigan attorney general’s office investigation continues, despite a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling knocking down the one-man grand jury process used to issue indictments.

Five other potential witnesses in the civil case, including former governor Rick Snyder, have also taken the Fifth, though U.S. District Judge Judith Levy has ruled they cannot invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination since they did not choose to during pre-trial depositions. Videos of those depositions have been played for the jury.

In two weeks, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear a motion from Snyder and others seeking to overturn Levy’s ruling.

But it’s possible the plaintiffs and defense in the civil trial will have already rested their cases and the jury will have begun deliberations.

This is considered to be a "bellwether" trial, since it may serve as a guide to future lawsuits.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.