UPDATED: 8:00 p.m. EDT, Jan. 13 —
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday was finally indicted for his role in the state’s deadly environmental disaster widely recognized as the Flint Water Crisis in 2014 and 2015. The criminal charges came about 24 hours after it was first reported that Snyder and other former state officials were facing an imminent indictment.
Snyder was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty in misdemeanor charges that carry as much as a year of jail time and a fine of $1,000, the Associated Press reported.
The indictment was likely underwhelming to the residents of the predominately Black city of Flint affected by the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014 and 2015 that killed a dozen people from a tainted water supply.
However, the AP called the charges “groundbreaking” because they made Snyder Michigan’s first governor or former governor to be indicted with crimes stemming from alleged actions while in office.
Charges against other former Michigan officials involved in the Flint Water Crisis are reportedly pending, something that may bode well for the future, according to the lawyer who secured a $600 million settlement for the water crisis victims. Cory Stern said he was excited about the prospects of charging Snyder and others because it means more justice is on the way.
“News of criminal charges being brought against Governor Snyder and other former top Michigan state officials should put folks on notice that there is a reckoning coming for any person or party responsible for the Flint water crisis. And if state officials are being charged criminally, then we should expect more civil liability to follow,” Stern, who represents 2,600 children in Flint, said in a statement emailed to NewsOne hours after the Associated Press broke the news Tuesday afternoon. “I feel an extreme sense of justice for the Flint families and children I’ve been representing for years. No one responsible for the destruction of innocent lives should be let off the hook and I’m grateful that investigators did not give up in their pursuit of uncovering the facts of how this disgraceful tragedy unfolded. Nothing will ever fully make up for the suffering that victims of the water crisis had to endure, but justice comes in many forms and this is an important step forward.”
“The governor had adequate legal authority to intervene by demanding more information from agency directors, reorganizing agencies to assure availability of appropriate expertise where needed, ordering state agencies to respond, or ultimately firing ineffective agency heads,” according to a 2018 report from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “But he abjured, either due to ignorance or willful neglect of duty.”
The report definitively stated that Snyder “bears significant legal responsibility.”
Two years after the water crisis first hit, Snyder refused to replace the corroded lead pipes that helped causes the disaster. Snyder left office in 2018 because his two terms were up.
Amazingly, even with Snyder’s well-documented involvement and alleged culpability for the Flint Water Crisis, he was still able to land an enviable job with Harvard University last year. He was named a “senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government,” according to a press release. Harvard specifically mentioned what it called Snyder’s “significant expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility.”
Last year, Flint prosecutors executed search warrants on Snyder by seizing his cellphone in what the New York Times said “signaled that prosecutors examining the Flint water crisis in recent months have been scrutinizing” him.
But the prosecutors at the time ended up dropping all criminal charges against eight former state government officials because of malfeasance from the first round of investigations into what the Associated Press described as “a man-made health emergency after lead from old pipes leached into drinking water in 2014 and 2015 due to a lack of corrosion-control treatment following a change in the water source while the financially strapped city was under state emergency management.”
Seven other former government officials were granted deals from previous prosecutors and, like Snyder, avoided any legal repercussions.