Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was charged on Wednesday with willful neglect after an investigation into ruinous decisions that left the town of Flint with lead-tainted water and a regional outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The charges, revealed in an online court record, are felony punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of US $ 1,000.
The charges are groundbreaking: No governor or former governor in Michigan’s 184-year history has been charged with crimes related to his time in this office, according to the state archivist.
“We believe there is no evidence to support criminal charges against Governor Snyder,” defense attorney Brian Lennon said on Wednesday evening, adding state prosecutors still had not provided him with details.
Lennon said Tuesday that a criminal case would be “scandalous”. Snyder and others were scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, followed by a press conference by Attorney General Dana Nessel and prosecutors.
Discolored water and skunk
Besides Snyder, a Republican who served as governor from 2011 to 2018, charges are expected against others, including former officials who served as director of public health and senior adviser.
The date of the alleged violation is April 25, 2014, when an emergency manager appointed by Snyder who ruled the troubled majority black city made an economic decision to use the Flint River for water as a Lake Huron regional pipeline was under construction. .
Corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing in homes in one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in US history.
Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no meaningful action until a doctor reported high levels of lead in children about 18 months later.
“I’m sorry and I’ll fix it,” Snyder promised in his 2016 State of the State address.
12 people died
Authorities have counted at least 90 cases of Legionella in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. Some experts have found that there is not enough chlorine in the water treatment system to control Legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems. cooling.
The disaster made Flint a national symbol of government dereliction, with residents forced to line up to buy bottled water and parents fearful that their children had suffered permanent harm. Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. The crisis has been presented as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
More than 9,700 lead home service lines have been replaced. Flint’s water, which now comes from a regional agency in Detroit, gets good marks, though many wary residents still use filters.
The criminal investigation lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. Todd Flood, who was convicted of a seven-person misdemeanor, was ousted in 2019 after Nessel, a Democrat, was elected. Fadwa Hammoud subsequently dropped the charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would restart. She said the first team failed to collect all the available evidence.
Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering company have agreed to a $ 641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis, including $ 600 million from Michigan. A judge said she hoped to decide by Jan.21 whether or not to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the Environmental Protection Agency, are ongoing.