A five-year investigation into the Flint water crisis has now resulted in misdemeanor charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI). Snyder was governor when the crisis occurred, and the charges allege he willfully neglected his duty to protect the people of Flint.
The charges, The Associated Press reported, could result in a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to a year in prison. The outlet called the charges “groundbreaking,” adding that “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.”
Brian Lennon, Snyder’s defense attorney, told the AP that he and his client “believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder.” He also said prosecutors had not provided him with any details about the allegations.
Charges are expected against others in Snyder’s administration, which lasted from 2011 through 2018, including his state health director and a senior adviser.
The alleged offense date is 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 regional pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction,” the AP reported. “The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes in one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in U.S. history.
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.
Democrats across the country blamed Snyder first and foremost for the crisis, but Flint has been run by Democrats for decades. At the time of the water crisis, the city had a Democrat mayor – and former President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency tried to cover up the issue, as the city did nothing about the poisoning until the problem became widespread. Emails between the two showed neither had any sense of urgency regarding the contamination.
Further, millions of dollars in aid provided to Flint to fix the water problem was given to a contractor that lacked the experience to replace the lead water pipes. The contractor was connected to Flint city officials.
The investigation into the water crisis resulted in misdemeanor convictions against seven people, but eight pending cases were dropped after Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel took office.
“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,” the AP reported.
The water crisis resulted in thousands of children drinking water contaminated with lead, which can cause serious developmental problems. It was also blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people, though the connection has not been proven.