Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) pleaded not guilty on Jan. 14 to two misdemeanor charges in connection with the Flint water crisis, while two other former officials face multiple felony manslaughter charges in the case.
A total of 42 charges against nine individuals stem from the crisis that tainted the water of thousands of Flint residents, sickened at least 80 people and led to the deaths of 12 from Legionnaires’ Disease. The charges were filed by state Attorney General Dana Nessel. Among those charged was Howard Croft, a former Flint Dept of Public Works director, on two counts of willful neglect of duty.
Meanwhile, cases against Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, a Dallas-based engineering firm that consulted Flint during the crisis, and Veolia, which also consulted to the city, are still pending. The cases against both are advancing in both the state and federal courts and currently are in the pretrial discovery phase.
"Multiple investigations have demonstrated the real blame and responsibility for this tragedy lies with the local, state and federal government officials who failed the residents of Flint," Carrie K. Griffiths, senior vice president of Communications at Veolia North America said in a statement. "We are confident the facts and the truth will prevail. The Flint water crisis is a stark example and national symbol of what happens when government officials fail to do their duties then attempt to cover up their wrongdoing... Veolia North America would never and has never compromised public safety in the design or construction of projects."
Wayne B. Mason, an attorney representing Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam, echoed those sentiments and expected a trial to being later this year.
"We feel strongly that culpability (for the Flint water crisis) lies with the state of Michigan and those folks, many of whom were indicted in the last few days," he said.
A service line replacement project for household lead service lines in the city is nearly completed.
Lines have been excavated at more than 26,750 homes and there are fewer than 500 left to check, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said in a statement applauding the charges against the former officials. Lead or galvanized steel pipes were found at 9,900 of those homes and replaced.
The city also has moved ahead in the last year on other infrastructure projects including beginning construction of a secondary water source, renovating water reservoirs, building a new chemical feed building and improving water quality monitoring efforts, Neeley said.
According to the city, the US Environmental Protection Agency said last month that once the secondary water line is completed, its emergency order in the city can officially be lifted. The city also continues to aggressively monitor water quality, Neeley said.
"We must remember that the Flint Water Crisis is not some relic of the past,” said Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is prosecuting the case for the state, in a statement after the charges were announced. "At this very moment, the people of Flint continue to suffer from the categorical failure of public officials at all levels of government, who trampled upon their trust, and evaded accountability for far too long.”
The charges stem from the officials’ alleged failure to protect residents from lead contamination and other water problems caused by the city’s switch to the Flint River for drinking water in 2014.
Nick Lyon, the former Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services director under Snyder, was also arraigned Jan. 14 on nine counts of felony involuntary manslaughter and other misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty. He pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
The other officials charged include:
- Eden Wells, the former chief medical executive for Michigan under Snyder, who was arraigned on nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty. She pleaded not guilty to all charges.
- Nancy Peeler, the former director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was arraigned on two felony counts of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty.
- Rich Baird, a former top adviser to Snyder, is charged with perjury during an investigation, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and extortion. He pleaded not guilty and could face up to 20 years in state prison if convicted.
- Jarrad Agen, a former aide to Snyder, was arraigned on one felony count of perjury during an investigative subpoena.
- Two former emergency managers appointed to manage the city of Flint during Snyder’s administration also have been charged. Gerald Ambrose is facing four counts of felony misconduct in office. Darnell Earley faces two counts of willful neglect of duty. Both former emergency managers pleaded not guilty.
Lyon’s attorney, Charles E. Chamberlain, said Jan. 10 that any charges against Lyon would be “an absolute travesty of justice.”
He noted his client was charged previously and the case was dismissed.
“The original charges filed in June 2017 were politically motivated and meritless, and after two years of baseless claims and personal attacks, they were dismissed,” he said.
Alexander Rusek, an attorney representing Croft, public works director at the time of the water switch, said his client is innocent of any wrongdoing in the crisis.
“Mr. Croft has asserted his innocence from the beginning and hasn’t wavered from that,” Rusek said. “I, personally, have not seen any evidence that supports charges against Mr. Croft.” Rusek said his client drank from the same public water source as other residents in the city.
Brian Lennon, an attorney representing Snyder, did not respond to emails or to phone calls.
Flint’s water troubles date back to 2014, when city and state officials switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water System to the Flint River without implementing corrosion control in an effort to save money. As a result, the water from the river corroded the system's pipes, leading to high levels of lead in the drinking water.
Snyder apologized in 2016 for the state’s role in the crisis.
Last year, the state reached a $600-million settlement with victims, and a court monitored compensation fund for victims was established.
Chief Judge Duncan Beagle of the Seventh Circuit in Genesee County appointed Judge David Newblatt to act as a one-man grand jury to investigate crimes related to the crisis. Indictments were issued after Newblatt listened to and evaluated the evidence presented, according to the solicitor general’s statement.