Ex-Michigan health director and former Gov. Rick Snyder is charged over Flint water crisis

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Ex-Michigan health director and former Gov. Rick Snyder is charged over Flint water crisis

Michigan’s former Heath Director Nick Lyon has been charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter in relation to the Flint water crisis and

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Michigan’s former Heath Director Nick Lyon has been charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter in relation to the Flint water crisis and ex-state Gov. Rick Snyder has been charged with willful neglect.

The charges against the two former state officials come as prosecutors revisit how Flint’s water system was contaminated with lead and bacteria during one of worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.

The involuntary manslaughter charges against Lyon were unveiled Thursday, and stem from the deaths of nine people who contracted Legionnaires’ disease as a result of the crisis. Former state medical executive Eden Wells, was also charged.

Lyon pleaded not guilty during an appearance in Genesee County Court earlier this morning. Each of the involuntary manslaughter counts is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

Moments later, his old boss, former Gov. Snyder, also pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint.

The charges against Snyder carry up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine upon conviction.

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.

The Detroit News has reported that as many as 10 people in all faced charges stemming from the water crisis, including some former members of Snyder’s administration 

Michigan’s former Heath Director Nick Lyon has been charged with manslaughter in the deaths of nine people in relation to the Flint water crisis

ex-Gov. Rick Snyder has been charged with willful neglect

Michigan’s former Heath Director Nick Lyon (left) has been charged with manslaughter in the deaths of nine people in relation to the Flint water crisis and ex-Gov. Rick Snyder has been charged with willful neglect

Gov. Snyder (right), pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint

Gov. Snyder (right), pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint

The charges against the two former state officials come as as prosecutors revisit how Flint’s water system (above in 2018) was contaminated with lead and bacteria during one of worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history

The charges against the two former state officials come as as prosecutors revisit how Flint’s water system (above in 2018) was contaminated with lead and bacteria during one of worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history

Flint’s troubles began in 2014 after the predominantly African-American city switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron to cut costs. Corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, tainting the drinking water and causing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

The contamination also prompted several lawsuits from parents who said their children were showing dangerously high blood levels of lead, which can cause development disorders. Lead can be toxic and children are especially vulnerable.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County during the water switch, including 12 deaths. 

Experts later found there was not enough chlorine in Flint’s water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

A civil settlement of more than $600 million was reached with victims of the water crisis in August 2020 and is awaiting court approval.

In response to the charges Wednesday night, Snyder’s defense attorney Brian Lennon said: ‘We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder.’

Snyder, a Republican, was governor from 2011 through 2018. The former computer executive pitched himself as a problem-solving ‘nerd’ who eschewed partisan politics and favored online dashboards to show performance in government.

The date of Snyder’s alleged crimes in Flint are listed as April 25, 2014 – the day the city switched water systems. 

Snyder has repeatedly apologized for the state’s poor handling of the crisis, but his lawyer, Lennon, has said any prosecution of the former governor would be politically motivated.

‘It is outrageous to think any criminal charges would be filed against Governor Snyder. Any charges would be meritless,’ Lennon said. 

In response to the charges Wednesday night, Snyder’s defense attorney Brian Lennon said: ‘We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder'

In response to the charges Wednesday night, Snyder’s defense attorney Brian Lennon said: ‘We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder’

Leon Abdullah El-Alamin (above with a photo of his son) said he would like to see Snyder charged with a felony. El-Alamin's son, now 7, has suffered hair loss and skin rashes due to the contaminated water. He said Snyder 'needs to do some kind of time'

Leon Abdullah El-Alamin (above with a photo of his son) said he would like to see Snyder charged with a felony. El-Alamin’s son, now 7, has suffered hair loss and skin rashes due to the contaminated water. He said Snyder ‘needs to do some kind of time’

Flint's troubles began in 2014 after the predominantly African-American city switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron to cut costs (Pictured: volunteers load cases of water into vehicles in Flint)

Flint’s troubles began in 2014 after the predominantly African-American city switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron to cut costs (Pictured: volunteers load cases of water into vehicles in Flint)

Corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, tainting the drinking water and causing an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease

Corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes, tainting the drinking water and causing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease

The latest charges all stem from evidence presented to Judge David Newblatt, who served as a secret one-person grand jury. 

Special prosecutor Fadwa Hammoud of the attorney general’s office declined to offer details during a news conference but said Snyder had ‘failed to protect the health and safety’ of Flint’s nearly 100,000 residents.

‘Let me start by saying the Flint water crisis is not some relic of the past,” Michigan Hammoud told reporters. ‘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.

‘There are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system,’ Hammoud continued. ‘Nobody — no matter how powerful or well-connected — is above accountability when they commit a crime.’

Wearing a mask, Snyder, 62, said little during his brief hearing, which was conducted by video. He replied, ‘Yes, your honor,’ when asked if he was living in Michigan.

Lyon, meanwhile, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, alongside former state medical executive Eden Wells. 

Defense attorney Chip Chamberlain said Lyon relied on the advice of experts when following the Legionnaires’ spike and forming public policy as head of a sprawling health agency.

‘This is a dangerous day for state employees,’ Chamberlain said.

It’s the second time that Lyon has been charged with manslaughter, but the earlier case involved only two deaths. 

He was accused in 2017 of failing to timely warn the public about the outbreak but the case was dropped by prosecutors when they decided to take a fresh look at evidence. 

It's the second time that Lyon (center) has been charged with manslaughter, but the earlier case involved only two deaths. He was accused in 2017 of failing to timely warn the public about the outbreak but the case was dropped by prosecutors

It’s the second time that Lyon (center) has been charged with manslaughter, but the earlier case involved only two deaths. He was accused in 2017 of failing to timely warn the public about the outbreak but the case was dropped by prosecutors

Former state medical executive Eden Wells (above) was also charged with manslaughter, along side Lyon

Former state medical executive Eden Wells (above) was also charged with manslaughter, along side Lyon

Experts later found there was not enough chlorine in Flint's water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems

Experts later found there was not enough chlorine in Flint’s water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems

The Detroit News has reported that as many as 10 people in all faced charges stemming from the water crisis, including some former members of Snyder’s administration. 

Former Emergency Manager of Flint, Darnell Earley, has been charged with minsconduct in office. Rich Baird, a friend and close adviser to Snyder, was charged with extortion, perjury and obstruction of justice. Jarrod Agen, who was communications director before going to work for Vice President Mike Pence, was charged with perjury. He subsequently left government for a job with a defense contractor.

The criminal investigation has lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. 

Todd Flood, who got misdemeanor convictions from seven people, was ousted in 2019 after the election of Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.

She turned to Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who subsequently dropped charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would start over. They said the first team had failed to collect all available evidence.

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis.

A judge said she hopes to decide by January 21 whether to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are pending.

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