It’s Manslaughter

June 20, 2017

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.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.