Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been charged with willful neglect after an investigation into ruinous decisions that left the US town of Flint with lead-tainted water and a regional outbreak of Legionella.
The charges, revealed in an online court record on Wednesday, carry a year in prison and a fine of $ 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 Wednesday evening, adding state prosecutors still had not provided him with details.
Lennon said Tuesday that a criminal case would be “outrageous.” Snyder and others were scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, followed by a press conference by Attorney General Dana Nessel and prosecutors.
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 alleged date of the offense is April 25, 2014, when an emergency official appointed by Snyder who ran the struggling predominantly black town in the country’s Midwest, made an economic decision to use the Flint River for the water while a regional Lake Huron pipeline was under construction.
Corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing in homes during one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in US history.
Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored 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 vowed during his 2016 State of the State address.
Welcome Fee for Flint Families
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 dereliction from the U.S. government, with residents forced to queue for bottled water and parents fearing their children 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.
In Flint, families have welcomed the charges against Snyder.
“They poisoned the whole town,” Roy Fields Sr. said of the officials elected and appointed to make sure residents were safe.
Fields’ adult daughter has miscarried. He then developed rashes, boils and a skin abscess.
“At first we thought all we had to do was boil the water and be OK,” Fields, 62, said Wednesday. “We cooked with, drink and when we heard about the problems with it, we stopped in 2014, but it was too late.
He wants someone to be brought to justice.
“They are talking about imprisonment,” Fields said. “But it’s no use. Let them come back here and work to help educate and do what they can to make this community whole. I was hostile. I had to forgive them to move on.
The news of the charges “is an ointment, but it’s not the end of the story,” said Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who has helped draw attention to the risks to child health of. Flint’s water.
“Without justice, it is impossible to heal the scars of the crisis,” Hanna-Attisha said in a statement Wednesday. “Healing wounds and rebuilding confidence will take decades and long term resources.”
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 the direction of two teams of prosecutors. Fadwa Hammoud, who succeeded Todd Flood, 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 US Environmental Protection Agency, are ongoing.