Flint Water Crisis: Michigan AG Poised to Indict Ex-Gov Snyder, Other Officials, Later This Week, But on What Charges?

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The Associated Press reports in Michigan plans to charge ex-Gov. Snyder in Flint water probe that former Michigan Rick Snyder will later be criminally charged for actions related to the Flint water crisis.

The AP report is sparse on key details, as are all the follow-on reports.

I turn to the Detroit News account, Michigan plans to charge ex-Gov. Snyder in Flint water probe, the most comprehensive I have seen so far:

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, top aide Rich Baird and former health director Nick Lyon have been told they will face criminal charges resulting from Flint’s water crisis, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Former Flint Public Works director Howard Croft also expects to be charged again, his lawyer, Jamie White, confirmed Tuesday. White said he was informed Monday about the development.

Up to 10 individuals, including members of Snyder’s executive office, are set to be formally indicted as soon as Thursday after Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office launched a new investigation in 2019, the source confirmed to The Detroit News.

The Flint water scandal contaminated the African American-majority city’s drinking water with lead and was blamed for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-15 while Snyder was governor. The looming charges likely mean the state’s former top officeholder will face a high stakes legal battle over his administration’s handling of the scandal.

The money question: what charges will be brought against Snyder and his aides? No one seems to know. (Or those that do are not saying.)

From the Detroit News:

The News could not discern what kind of charges would be brought against Snyder, Lyon, Baird and Croft.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Courtney Covington said Tuesday. “The team is working diligently, though and we do hope to have an announcement on the status of that investigation soon.”

Snyder approved putting the city of Flint into state emergency management and was responsible for the state’s response to the lead contamination. Baird oversaw Flint’s recovery effort, Lyon handled the state’s responses to the city’s public health problems and Croft was responsible for dealing with the city’s water problems.

Still others are asking that question. From the AP account:

LeeAnne Walters, a mother of four who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, said she wants details about the charges.

“The very fact that people are being held accountable is an amazing feat,” Walters said. “But when people’s lives have been lost and children have been severely hurt, it doesn’t seem like enough.”

Spin and Jubilation

Snyder’s team is – unsurprisingly -already spinning the pending indictments as motivated by mere partisan politics.

Of course they are! But does that make them any less legitimate?

Again from the Detroit News:

Brian Lennon, an attorney who represents Snyder, said it’s “outrageous to think any criminal charges would be filed against” the former two-term Republican governor.

“Coming from an administration that claims to be above partisan politics, it is deeply disappointing to see pure political motivation driving charging decisions,” Lennon added.

Miracle dictu, will some public officials finally  be held accountable for their Flint misdeeds?

Criminal charges are the only avenue still open to Michigan to hold these officials accountable – as an earlier $640 million settlement of civil charges against state officials, currently agreed but awaiting court approval – released them from all civil liability.

And a lengthy section in which the Detroit News allowed the lawyers for those expected to be accused to sputter on about how outrageous these indictments are, the paper then turned over the floor to Former Flint mayor, Karen Weaver express her pleasure at the state of affairs:

Weaver, who was in office from 2015 to 2019, couldn’t contain her excitement Tuesday when told about the expected charges being brought against Snyder and others.

“It’s just wonderful. It’s finally here. It’s hitting me right now,” said Weaver, who has been pressing for Snyder to be charged for years. “It’s about time. All evidence pointed to him that he knew, that he knew what was going on. It was a cover-up for 18 long months that something was going on with Flint and the water.”

Weaver, a Democrat, said she was pleased to hear that charges are also coming against Baird and others “because you cannot do that by yourself.”

“Now I hope that they are convicted,” she said. “That’s what’s needs to happen next because people in Flint have been damaged. People in Flint have lost lives at their hands.”

Snyder, a Republican who has been out of office for two years, was governor when state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 while a new regional authority pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. But the acidic river water leached lead from the city’s old pipes because it was not properly treated, a decision that a Snyder-appointed independent commission blamed for the lead contamination.

Given the lack of details on exactly what criminal charges Snyder and the others face, I think I’ll stop here, to revisit the topic later. But the news we have so far looks promising.

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