Updated: Former Gov. Snyder charged in Flint water crisis probe

Gov. Rick Snyder, (R-MI), speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, about the Flint, Michigan water crisis, on Capitol Hill March 17, 2016 in Washington, DC. | Mark Wilson, Getty Images
Updated 5:48 p.m., 1/12/21, 9:47 p.m., 1/13/21 with charges

Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday was charged in connection with the Flint water crisis. He faces two counts of willful neglect of duty, misdemeanors which could each result in up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the ex-governor and up to 10 former Snyder administration officials would face charges for their roles in the Flint water crisis.

The charges themselves are as of yet unknown, but the individuals — including former top Snyder adviser Rich Baird and former Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Nick Lyon — are apparently set to be formally indicted in Flint as soon as Thursday.

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office declined to comment. Nessel’s office had dropped in 2019 an ongoing three-year-long investigation into the Flint water crisis begun by former Attorney General Bill Schuette that was plagued by problems to start a new investigation under her leadership. 

Since Nessel has an obligation as attorney general to defend the state on civil matters, ethical rules require her to be screened off from the criminal investigation.

“Not in a position to comment on the details of the team’s ongoing investigation, but they are working diligently. Will share more when in a position to do so,” said Nessel spokesperson Courtney Covington Watkins said Tuesday.

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The attorney general’s office scheduled a press conference for Thursday.

The Flint water scandal began in 2014, when state-appointed emergency managers in Flint tried to save money by switching the city’s water supply to the Flint River without implementing anti-corrosion treatments. The old pipes leeched lead into the city’s drinking water and has caused widespread health issues, including Legionnaires’ disease for residents.

Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2018 for failing to inform the public in a timely manner about a related Legionnaires’ outbreak triggered by the crisis. Those charges were dropped the following year as Nessel started a new investigation.

An attorney for Snyder told the AP that the “Office of Special Counsel clearly needs a scapegoat.”

In a statement, Baird’s attorney, Randall Levine, said that they “have not been made aware of what the charges are, or how they are related to [Baird’s] position with former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.”

Ted Leopold and Michael Pitt, interim court-appointed co-lead class counsel in the Flint civil litigation, said in a statement that the $641.2 million civil settlement remains pending in court.

There is also ongoing litigation against two private engineering firms charged with professional negligence, as well as litigation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The residents of Flint were victims of decisions by the State of Michigan that resulted in tragic and devastating consequences. While we can never undo the injustice that occurred to the victims of Flint and their community, those responsible—including Governor Snyder and those he appointed to oversee the needs of the Flint residents—should be held accountable for the devastation they caused,” said Leopold and Pitt.

“On behalf of our clients we give our assurances that we will continue to fight to make sure that a full measure of justice is obtained.”*

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Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) noted that the investigation is ongoing but he is confident that it will bring justice for victims.

“I am working to get more information and it is my understanding that the Flint water investigation is ongoing. While we do not yet know the full extent of the charges expected to be made, I have said from the beginning that justice requires even the most powerful be held accountable for what happened to the families of my city,” Ananich said.

“No person, no politician, is above the law. I have every expectation that our attorney general and her team is pursuing every legal avenue to deliver justice for Flint.”

A statement from Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott simply reads: “It’s about damn time. Justice for the people of Flint is long overdue.”