Flint — The Michigan State Police chief testified Wednesday that she never heard Health and Human Services chief Nick Lyon talk about Legionnaires’ disease when the governor was considering declaring a state of emergency in Flint.
Col. Kriste Etue was questioned as the state’s special prosecutor tried to show 67th District Court Judge David Goggins that there is probable cause for Lyon to go to trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice. The charges are related to a Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 in 2014-15.
Etue said she would likely have known about the issue, even though she couldn’t articulate under cross examination what Legionella is. Legionnaires’ is a respiratory disease spread by harmful bacteria known as Legionella.
Etue attended a January 2016 meeting with the governor and others including Lyon and did not remember the welfare and health director talking about the risks of Legionella.
“I wouldn’t want any director withholding that information,” she said.
Etue also was asked about an email exchange with Gov. Rick Snyder aide Rick Baird in which Baird indicated he’d rather handle the public health crisis without declaring an emergency. She said the declaration would have brought in considerable federal resources.
“Boss wants to work through without a disaster declaration,” according to the November 2015 email from Baird.
Wednesday marked the third day of testimony in the hearing. The prosecution is trying to link Lyon to indifference about the Legionnaires’ outbreak that it says resulted in the death of a Flint area man.
Special prosecutor Todd Flood is is trying to show that an emergency would have been declared before Jan. 13, 2016, if the Legionnaires’ information had been shared with Snyder earlier.
“It’s clear to me the lack of information or information that’s out there,” he said. “That’s important for the colonel of the Michigan State Police to know.”
Etue is scheduled to meet Thursday with members of the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus after she apologized for reposting a controversial meme on her personal Facebook page that criticized as “degenerates” pro football players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice in America.
On Wednesday, former state epidemiologist Corrinne Miller said the state could have gone public with a health declaration earlier but didn’t because of the lack of information about Legionnaires’ cases.
In response to a question from Goggins about politics in the health department, Miller said “political concerns always filter through the agency.”
The case will resume Friday. Flood said he has more witnesses to call and wouldn’t put a timetable on wrapping up his case.
“It’s slow,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of frustration. The defense needs time, they’ve asked for time to read material. And that’s their due process right. I’m not going to put a clock on it.”