Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing criminal charges
for his involvement in the events that led to the contamination of Flint, Michigan's water supply. Snyder joins other officials such as former state health director Nick Lyon and top aide Rich Baird in the list of indictments, following a new investigation on the scandal.
Flint's water supply was contaminated with lead due to state oversight, subsequently poisoning a number of residents. The contamination also resulted in an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease among residents from 2014 to 2015.
Snyder stepped down as governor in 2019 upon the election of current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But t was under his term that state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city's water source to the Flint River in 2014. The move was designed to be a cost-saving measure while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being constructed.
The decision proved to be disastrous. The water was not treated to reduce corrosion, allowing lead to leach from old pipes and make its way into the city's water supply. The toxic water affected about 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, bacteria from the contaminated water was blamed for the Legionnaires' disease outbreak.
Despite Lyon being aware of cases being reported months before, he and Snyder only announced the Legionnaires' disease outbreak and the water contamination in January 2016.
A special prosecutor accused Lyon of failing to timely inform the public about the outbreak sooner, which led to the then-health director facing involuntary manslaughter charges in 2018. His attorneys argued there was insufficient information to share regarding the outbreak. However, a new team of prosecutors led by Attorney General Dana Nessel overturned the previous investigation.
The attorney general's team conducted a new probe on the matter in 2019. This second investigation gave rise to the charges being faced by Snyder and other officials who served during his term
Snyder and other former officials are expected to appear in court soon
Two people with knowledge about the investigation told the Associated Press
Jan. 12 that Nessel's office has informed lawyers of the accused regarding the indictments. The defense counsels were also told to expect initial court appearances soon.
Courtney Covington Watkins, a spokeswoman for Nessel, said investigators were "working diligently" and will "share more as soon as we're in a position to do so."
But Snyder and Lyon's respective lawyers slammed the charges slapped on their clients. Snyder's attorney Brian Lennon released a statement Jan. 12 stating that a criminal prosecution would be "outrageous," adding that state prosecutors have refused to "share information about these charges with us."
"Rather than following the evidence to find the truth, the office of the special counsel appears to be targeting former Gov. Snyder in a political escapade," Lennon's statement said.
Lyon's attorney Chip Chamberlain echoed the same sentiment, branding the new case "a travesty of justice." He said prosecutors turned down his request for a copy of the new charges against his client.
Other defense lawyers were also informed of the looming indictments. Attorney Jamie White said his client, former Flint public works chief Howard Croft, is being charged. Attorney Randy Levine, who represented Baird, said he was notified Jan. 11 that his client would face charges. Levine commented about his client: "When the Flint water crisis hit, [Baird] wasn't assigned by [then] Gov. Snyder to go to [the city.] Rather, he raised his hand and volunteered."
Snyder apologized for the scandal in 2016, saying that the state government at all levels had failed Flint. However, the former governor's apologies appeared to be insufficient.
Flint resident LeeAnne Walters said she wants details about the charges against Snyder and other officials. "The very fact that people are being held accountable is an amazing feat. But when people's lives have been lost and children have been severely hurt, it doesn't seem like enough," she said. The mother of four is credited with exposing the lead contamination of the city's water supply. (Related: Veteran mistreated at work for being the husband of Flint water crisis whistleblower
Sixty-one-year-old Edna Sabucco, another Flint resident, criticized Snyder's concealment of the scandal. "He swept things under the rug," she said. "And to me that makes him just as guilty as anybody else, because he should have come out singing like a canary."
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