Defense, witness spar in Flint case
Flint — The special prosecutor’s witness in the Flint water crisis case sparred Friday with defense attorneys for Health and Human Services chief Nick Lyon over funding for his group to study the Legionella outbreak.
Shawn McElmurry, a Wayne State University professor hired by the state to investigate the Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak, has said many things contributed to the study delay including squabbles over funding and a district court judge’s protective order limiting contact between state and local health officials.
McElmurry is an environmental engineering associate professor who had disagreements with Lyon over funding and how quickly to test water filters for Legionella.
Speaking about a conversation with Gov. Rick Snyder’s urban affairs aide Harvey Hollins about the study, McElmurry said that it appeared to him money from the state wasn’t an issue.
“He made it clear that money was not going to be a problem for the study of Legionella issue,” McElmurry testified. Defense attorney Chip Chamberlain challenged that assessment, saying he didn’t have “an open checkbook.”
McElmurry was on a task force ordered by Snyder to study whether Flint’s April 2014 switch to the Flint River was the reason for the Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 Flint area residents. McElmurry has said his team tried to impress on Lyon and others the grave situation if they didn’t do more testing.
Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for allegedly trying to cover up the 2014-15 Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 Flint area residents.
The manslaughter charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.
The state of Michigan contracted with the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership that McElmurry and others from Wayne State were on in March 2016 for the $3.1 million study. Another $1 million was supposed to be awarded in year two, he testified, but never came. Initial cost estimates ranged from $9 million to $12 million for the study.
This is the second time McElmurry was on the stand. Last month, he testified that the city’s switch to more corrosive water helped spur Legionella growth.
McElmurry was questioned by Lyon attorney Britt Cobb about a protective order issued by a district court judge in Flint that restricted the ability of the state departments of health and environment to access patient information and directs the county health department. It instead ordered them to contact the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help investigating lead contamination or cases of deadly Legionnaires’ disease.
The protective order essentially prevented McLaren Hospital from having to disclose info about the Legionnaires’ outbreak and it affected McElmurry’s work to study the effects of Legionella on Flint-area residents.
The case will continue Dec. 13 and 15.