Wells’ attorney, Flint prosecutor spar over testy texts

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — An attorney for state Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells contended Monday that the special prosecutor was inaccurate to contend that a witness through subpoenaed text messages belittled local county officials and called them names.

The text messages in question were from state epidemiologist supervisor Jay Fiedler, who testified Nov. 29 for the prosecution Nov. 29 in the involuntary manslaughter preliminary exam hearing of Wells. The text messages, Special Prosecutor Todd Flood said, had criticized Genesee County health officials in a three-way conversation with Fiedler and others.

“Now that we’ve had a chance to review the text messages in full — we were given a flash drive — it is revealed that Mr. Fiedler did not call Mr. (Jim) Henry an ass----- in those text messages,” Tramontin told the judge about the reference to Henry, the county’s environmental health director.

“In fairness to Mr. Fiedler, certainly our impression was that the prosecution was suggesting that he directly made these statements and that he engaged in these conversations regarding the county health department. Mr. Fiedler was maligned in the press for making these statements.”

But Flood denied the accusation during a testy exchange before testimony started in Wells’ Monday hearing before 67th District Court Judge William Crawford. Wells is charged with involuntary manslaugther and misconduct in office regarding her roll in the Flint water crisis and a Flint area death from Legionnaires’ disease in 2015.

Crawford listened intently to Flood and Tramontin as they traded barbs over who was accurate before the judge decided to “move on.”

The special prosecutors requested Fiedler's text messages to see if communications occurred between him and Wells. What they found were disparaging comments by state officials about Genesee County health officials, calling them names and describing their work during the water crisis as a “reign of incompetence.”

When questioned by Flood on the stand last month, Fielder said he couldn't remember making such unflattering comments. On Monday, Flood told Crawford that all he did was question a witness and that “texts don’t lie.”

“To give an accurate rendition, I asked questions of the witness on the stand as it related to his characterization and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service Department’s characterization of the local health department as being incompetent ass-----,” Flood told the judge. “And I spared bringing up the specific name because the commentary was so horrendous as it related to the employees.”

Flood said the text messages are relevant because if state officials like Fiedler thought the local health officials were “so incompetent, so inept ... did not have the ability to investigate the Legionella outbreak,” then the state would have the primacy to come in to take over.

After the exchange, Wayne State environmental professor Shawn McElmurry began his first day of testimony in the Wells case. McElmurry previously testified in the preliminary exam hearing of Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, who has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office.

Similar to his testimony in the Lyon case, McElmurry spoke about his task force’s effort to try to test for Legionella and its interactions with Wells. Special prosecutor Paul Stablein and Tramontin spent much of the hearing sparring over defense objections to certain aspects of the case.

Testimony will continue Tuesday in the Wells case but McElmurry won’t return until Dec. 20 for cross examination.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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