Flint water defendants complain about withheld documents, late-arriving witness lists

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The attorneys for eight former government officials charged with crimes related to the Flint water contamination crisis complained Thursday to a judge about the prosecution's failure to release documents and late-arriving witness lists.

The pretrial hearing before Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Kelly ended with the judge scheduling another hearing on Oct. 28 at 2 p.m.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office has charged nine former Flint and state officials over problems that emerged after the then-state-managed city of nearly 100,000 people switched its water source from a Detroit-area system to the Flint River.

"We're moving along as quick as we can. I understand and I appreciate the court's wanting this to move along, and certainly the defendants want to move this along,"  Assistant Attorney General Chris Kessel said on the Zoom call with the judge, attorneys and defendants.

The Flint Water Plant and Flint water tower in Flint on Jan. 13, 2021.

Several attorneys accused the Attorney General's office of delay tactics, saying they have issues with the speed and substance with the state's discovery of documents.

"It is their burden to produce discovery. This investigation was going a year. There are deadlines in the statute as to when they are supposed to produce them," said Seth Waxman, who represents Jarrod Agen, a former Gov. Rick Snyder communications director.

The cases revolve around the lead contamination of Flint residents' drinking water. The switch from the Detroit area water system to the Flint River has also been suspected to have resulted in 2014-15 outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the region that sickened more than 90 people and killed at least 12.

The defendants being represented at Thursday's hearing were Nick Lyon, former director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, who is charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of misconduct in office. He faces up to 15 years and/or $7,500 fine on involuntary manslaughter charges; one year in jail and/or $1,000 fine on misconduct charge.

Richard Baird, one of former Gov. Rick Snyder's top aides, is charged with perjury during an investigative subpoena investigation, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and extortion in relation to the Flint water case. The penalties from the charges range from 5-20 years in prison and various fines. Baird was in charge of Flint's recovery effort.

Agen is charged with perjury during an investigative subpoena investigation and could face up to to 15 years in prison if found guilty. Agen was Snyder's director of communications during the Flint water crisis and became chief of staff in January 2016 when his predecessor, Dennis Muchmore, left the administration. 

Dr. Eden Wells, former Michigan chief medical executive, is charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duties. The penalties range from one year to 15 years in prison. As the state's chief medical executive, Wells was involved in the state's response to Flint's lead contamination and Legionnaires' disease outbreak.

Darnell Earley, former Flint emergency manager, is accused of three counts of misconduct in office. He faces up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine. Earley was emergency manager for Flint between September 2013 and January 2015, a period that encompassed the city's 2014 switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. 

Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed Flint emergency manager, is charged with four counts of misconduct in office and faces up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine. Ambrose became Flint's fourth emergency manager in January 2015 and left in April of the same year. During his brief time in office, residents complained about their water quality and the system had issues with trihalomethanes. 

Nancy Peeler, former director of Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting in state Health and Human Services department, is charged with two felony counts of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty. The penalties ranging from one year in jail to up to five years in prison. 

Peeler's charges are related to "concealing and later misrepresenting data related to elevated blood lead levels in children in the city of Flint" and the failure to act on those blood lead levels, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud has said.