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Michigan's top doctor heading for trial on Flint water crisis charges

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Today, a judge decided another top state health department official should face trial in connection with the Flint water crisis.

Dr. Eden Wells listened as District Court Judge William Crawford bound her over for trial. Michigan’s chief medical executive is facing four counts:  involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer.

The charges are linked to a deadly Legionnaires' Disease outbreak that occurred in Genesee County from 2014 to 2015. At least a dozen people died from the pneumonia-like illness which coincided with the city’s drinking water switch from Detroit water to the Flint River. Experts disagree over whether the river was the source of the outbreak.  

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Special Counsel Todd Flood (right) and Asst. Att. Gen. Paul Stablein listen as Judge William Crawford returns his decision.

During her months-long preliminary hearing, prosecutors tried to build a case that Wells should have done more to alert the public about the outbreak.   

Judge William Crawford acknowledged in his decision that there is conflicting evidence in the case, but he says the final decision should be made by a jury.

Prosecutors are happy the judge decided there was enough evidence to warrant sending the case to trial.  

“It was the correct outcome under the circumstances, based upon the evidence that was presented,” says Paul Stablein, an assistant state attorney general.

Wells’ attorneys disagreed. They plan to continue their legal fight as the case moves to circuit court. 

“This is just round one. Dr. Wells is innocent of these charges,” says Steven Tramontin, Wells’ defense attorney.

Judge William Crawford acknowledged in his decision that there is conflicting evidence in the case, but he says the final decision should be made by a jury.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
District Judge William Crawford bound Dr. Eden Wells over for trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to a Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015.

State Health Department director Nick Lyon is also facing trial for his handling of the Legionnaires' outbreak. He’s also facing involuntary manslaughter and other charges.

There are still many legal hurdles to cross before either Lyon or Wells may face trial.  

One thing that’s unclear is who will lead the prosecution team. 

Todd Flood has served as special counsel, leading the investigation and prosecution of the Flint water crisis criminal probe since January 2016.

But Michigan Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel has criticized the handling of the criminal probe and is expected to make changes after she takes office next year.

Flood declined to talk to reporters after today’s court hearing. Other prosecution and defense attorneys declined to comment to questions about possible changes to the prosecution team. 

In all, 15 current and former government officials have been charged as part of the Flint water crisis criminal investigation. Four have cut plea deals with prosecutors. Three cases have been moved to the circuit court level. The rest remain at the preliminary hearing phase to determine if there is enough evidence to send their cases to trial. 

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.
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