Nine former Michigan state officials, including ex-Gov. Rick Snyder, were criminally charged in what prosecutors on Thursday called “finally holding people accountable” for the Flint water crisis.
Snyder, 62, and eight other officials who worked under him are now facing a host of charges stemming from a water supply switch in 2014 that exposed Flint residents to dangerous levels of lead and Legionnaires’ disease.
“Let me start by saying the Flint water crisis is not some relic of the past,” Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa 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.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel appointed Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutors Kym Worthy to investigate the case, throwing out earlier charges brought by her predecessor, Bill Schuette.
Nessel is a Democrat and Schuette, a Republican like Snyder, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2016.
“This case has nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship, it has to do with human decency, the complete abandonment of the people of Flint and finally, finally, finally holding people accountable,” said Worthy.
“Pure and simple, this case is about justice, truth, accountability, poisoned children, lost lives, shattered families that are still not whole and simply giving a damn about all of humanity.”
Earlier Thursday, during a virtual appearance before Genesee County Judge Christopher Odette, Snyder pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor chargers.
Odette set bond at $10,000 and ordered Snyder not to travel outside Michigan until at least his next court date, set for Tuesday.
The former two-term governor spoke to the judge from a booth inside the Genesee County jail, where he wore a mask and sat next to his defense lawyer, Brian Lennon.
The five-minute-long arraignment was highly procedural as Snyder acknowledged the charges against him and agreed to terms of his release.
Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires’ disease. He pleaded not guilty during an appearance in a Genesee County court on Thursday, ahead of Gov. Snyder’s appearance.
Residents of the majority-Black city of Flint have struggled for years to recover from the crisis as they relied for on bottled water as their primary source of clean water and their property values suffered.
Today, tests show that Flint’s water is safe to drink but many residents, skeptical of government officials, say they still don’t trust the city’s water.
The Snyder administration in 2014 switched Flint from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs. That move proved disastrous, exposing Flint residents to lead contamination from the new supply’s untreated river water.
Michigan agreed to a $600 million settlement in August in a class-action lawsuit with Flint residents whose health was affected, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
This is a developing story, please check here for updates.