Michigan’s former governor, Rick Snyder, as well as several other former officials have been informed that charges will be filed against them following a probe into the Flint water crisis.
According to the Associated Press, the state attorney general’s office has informed defense attorneys about the pending charges, and initial court appearances are expected to happen sooner rather than later. I’m using “sooner” in relative terms here as Flint has been in crisis for the last seven years. In addition to Snyder, charges are also set to be filed against Nick Lyon, the former director of Michigan’s health department, as well as several others.
While it’s still unclear what exactly they’re being charged with, Courtney Covington Watkins, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told AP that the office “will share more as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”
So why might several former officials be charged for their role in basically poisoning a predominantly Black city’s entire water supply?
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 as a cost-saving step while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water, however, was not treated to reduce corrosion — a disastrous decision affirmed by state regulators that caused lead to leach from old pipes and spoil the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents.
The disaster made Flint a nationwide symbol of governmental mismanagement, with residents lining up for bottled water and parents fearing that their children had suffered permanent harm. The crisis was highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
At the same time, bacteria in the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’. Legionella bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems, triggering a severe form of pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems. Authorities counted at least 90 cases in Genesee County, including 12 deaths.
The outbreak was announced by Snyder and Lyon in January 2016, although Lyon conceded that he knew that cases were being reported many months earlier.
Charges being filed against these incompetent fools shouldn’t be that surprising, but after a lifetime of seeing white men do whatever they want with zero consequence, I must admit, I’m pretty surprised.
Lyon had previously stood trial in 2018 on involuntary manslaughter charges after a special prosecutor had accused Lyon of warning Flint residents far too late about the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Those charges wound up being dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled in the future.
The dismissal came in 2019 when the newly appointed attorney general, Dana Nessel, dismissed all criminal charges related to the then-ongoing investigation, opting to launch a new probe instead. AP notes that this decision had no bearing on the seven people who had already pleaded no contest to misdemeanors related to the previous investigation.