LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Two years after leaving office, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing charges of willful neglect of duty in the Flint water crisis as prosecutors revisit how the city’s water system was contaminated with lead during one of worst manmade environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Two misdemeanors popped up in an online court file Wednesday night after Attorney General Dana Nessel and her prosecutors announced a Thursday news conference to discuss their findings. Former officials who worked in Snyder’s administration are also expected to be charged and appear in court Thursday.
“We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder,” defense attorney Brian Lennon said, adding that prosecutors still hadn’t provided him with any details.
The charges against Snyder carry up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine upon conviction. No governor or former governor in Michigan’s 184-year history had been charged with crimes related to their time in that office, according to the state archivist.
Snyder, a Republican, was governor from 2011 through 2018. The former computer executive pitched himself as a problem-solving “nerd” who eschewed partisan politics and favored online dashboards to show performance in government. Flint turned out to be the worst chapter of his two terms due to a series of catastrophic decisions that will affect residents for years.
The date of Snyder’s alleged crimes in Flint is listed as April 25, 2014, when a Snyder-appointed emergency manager who was running the struggling, majority Black city carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.
The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes.
Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.
“I’m sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder promised during his 2016 State of the State speech.
Authorities also counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. Some experts found there was not enough chlorine in Flint’s water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.
Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. The crisis was highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
The criminal investigation has lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. Todd Flood, who got misdemeanor convictions from seven people, was ousted in 2019 after the election of Nessel, a Democrat. Fadwa Hammoud subsequently dropped charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would start over. She said the first team had failed to collect all available evidence.
Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis, with $600 million coming from Michigan. A judge said she hopes to decide by Jan. 21 whether to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are pending.
DETROIT (AP) — Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and other ex-officials have been told they’re being charged after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal, which devastated the majority Black city with lead-contaminated water and was blamed for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-15, The Associated Press has learned.
Two people with knowledge of the planned prosecution told the AP on Tuesday that the attorney general’s office has informed defense lawyers about indictments in Flint and told them to expect initial court appearances soon. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The AP could not determine the nature of the charges against Snyder, former health department director Nick Lyon and others who were in the Snyder administration. The attorney general’s office declined to comment on details of the ongoing investigation. Spokeswoman Courtney Covington Watkins said investigators were “working diligently” and “will share more as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”
Snyder’s attorney didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Snyder, a Republican who has been out of office for two years, was governor when state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-saving step while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water, however, was not treated to reduce corrosion — a disastrous decision affirmed by state regulators that caused lead to leach from old pipes and spoil the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents.
The disaster made Flint a nationwide symbol of governmental mismanagement, with residents lining up for bottled water and parents fearing that their children had suffered permanent harm. The crisis was highlighted by some as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
At the same time, bacteria in the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’. Legionella bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems, triggering a severe form of pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems. Authorities counted at least 90 cases in Genesee County, including 12 deaths.
The outbreak was announced by Snyder and Lyon in January 2016, although Lyon conceded that he knew that cases were being reported many months earlier.
In 2018, Lyon was ordered to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges after a special prosecutor accused him of failing to timely inform the public about the outbreak. His attorneys argued there was not enough solid information to share earlier with the public.
By June 2019, the entire Flint water investigation was turned upside down. Prosecutors working under a new attorney general, Dana Nessel, dismissed the case against Lyon as well as charges against seven more people and said the probe would start anew.
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