By Tom Travis
Today Flint residents who logged onto a virtual court procedure saw something many had called for, but never thought they would see: former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, an attorney at his side, pleading not guilty to charges leveled by Attorney General Dana Nessel for Snyder’s role in the Flint water crisis.
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and eight other former state and local officials, including Nick Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service; Snyder “transformation manager Rich Baird; and Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s former chief medical executive; are facing charges connected to their alleged role in the Flint water crisis.
Two of those charged are former emergency managers for the city appointed by Snyder–Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, as was Howard Croft, former direct of Public Works for the City of Flint,
After months of silence from the Michigan Attorney General’s Flint office, the floodgate broke Wednesday, with a flurry of announcements about those charged–virtually all names well known to Flint residents from the crisis, which began in April of 2014 when the city began drawing water from the Flint River.
This morning, television media kept the cameras rolling as the group of former state and local officials, including former Gov. Snyder, were ushered into Genesee County court to face charges.
“Let me be clear, there are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system. Nobody, no matter how powerful and how well connected, is above accountability when they commit a crime,” said Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud in a press conference held today in the Flint office of the state’s Attorney General.
Approaching the seventh year anniversary (April 25) since the water source for Flint residents was switched from Detroit to the Flint River and was subsequently tainted by lead corroding off the city’s pipes, the long-awaited criminal charges have been announced.
The charges range from misdemeanor charges and fines to felony charges with a potential of 10, 15 and 20-year prison sentences.
Attorney General, Solicitor General and Wayne County Prosecutor
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel spoke from the Attorney General’s Flint office this morning announcing the list of prosecutions in the Flint water crisis. Nessel explained that she chose to be involved in the civil law suits in the water crisis while Solicitor General, Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy have led the criminal law suits in the water crisis.
“The Department of Attorney General represents state agencies and officials in civil lawsuits and upholds prosecutorial duties on behalf of the state in criminal cases. As the department responded to the Flint water crisis, a conflict wall was established to allow both civil and criminal teams to perform their jobs independently of each other and without jeopardizing ethical obligations by isolating information to each side.
“Attorney General Nessel assigned herself to the civil litigation, isolating herself from any prior knowledge of or influence over the criminal investigation, as Hammoud and Worthy operated independently to review evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” explained AG Nessel in the press conference this morning.
Flint water crisis prosecutions
Snyder sat beside his attorney Brian Lennon in the 67th District Court before Judge Christopher Odette via video conference and plead not guilty to charges of willful neglect of duty and could face a one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Snyder’s next court appearance will be Jan 19 before Judge William Crawford II.
Nick Lyon, former director of the Department of Health and Human Services, was charged with 10 counts of involuntary manslaughter that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years and/or $7,500 fine. Lyon was also charged on 10 accounts of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Lyon’s bond was set at $200,000 cash surety. Lyon’s next appearance in court will be Feb 18.
Rick Baird, former “Transformation Manager” and senior adviser to Snyder, was charged with one count of perjury, a 15-year felony, one count of official misconduct in office, a five year felony and/or $10,000 fine; one county of obstruction of justice, a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine; and one count of extortion, a 20-year felony and/or $10,000 fine. Baird pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director, was charged with one count of perjury that is a 15 year felony. Agen appears in court next on Feb 18 at 3 p.m.
Dr. Eden Wells, former chief medical executive of the Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with 9 counts of involuntary manslaughter, each are a 15-year sentence; 2 counts of misconduct in office and 1 count of neglect of duty. The judge set a $200,000 bond with the stipulation she must surrender her passport and continue to reside in the State of Maine.
Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager was charged with three counts of misconduct in office, a five year felony for each count and was issued a $75,000 bond for each count. Earley is next due in court on Feb. 18.
Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager Gerald Ambrose was charged with four counts of misconduct in office, a felony punishable by up to five years and/or $10,000 fine.
Howard Croft, former direct of Public Works for the City of Flint, was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, each a one year misdemeanor and/or a $1,000 fine. Croft will be back in court on Jan 19 at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Crawford.
Nancy Peeler, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Early Childhood Health Section manager, was charged with two counts of misconduct in office and faces a felony of up to 5 years or $10,000. Peeler is also charged with one count of willful neglect, a misdemeanor with up to a one year sentence.
A $75,000 bond for each count was issued to Peeler by Judge Kelly. Peeler is required to turn in her passport and is not allowed to leave the State of Michigan without the court’s permission.
The Flint water crisis – April 25, 2014
On April 25, 2014, then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling flipped a switch at the Flint water plant. In that moment corrosive water from the Flint River began to flow into the pipes of of residents, schools, restaurants and businesses in Flint.
The Flint water crisis began, eventually leading to lead exposure in the bodies of thousands of Flint children, a chain of disastrous health, psychological, sociological, economic and political effects.
Fifteen state, county and local officials had been indicted in repercussions of the water crisis by former Attorney General Bill Schuette in the years before he was defeated in an election for governor by Gretchen Whitmer.
But in June 2019, after a trove of new documents related to the crisis were unearthed, in Lansing, Michigan Attorney General Nessel announced the state had dropped all indictments in the water crisis and intended to start over.
Whitmer appointed Michigan Solicitor General Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy to handle a new investigation.
On Friday, June 28, 2019 Michigan’s Solicitor General, Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecuter, Worthy came to Flint to face a room full of angry and confused Flint residents with questions as to why the indictments were dropped.
In addition, the lead contamination of Flint’s water was tied to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the region in 2014 and 2015. It is reported that 90 people became ill and at least 12 people died due to Legionnaires’ diseas.
Last year the State announced a $641 million Flint water crisis settlement. That settlement is scheduled for preliminary approval by Federal Judge Judith Levy on Jan 15, 2021.
Flint Mayor and Michigan elected officials respond to charges in Flint water crisis
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley issued the following statement:
“Today’s press conference with details of the state’s criminal investigation confirms there were multiple levels of wrongdoing to our community. We now have to work toward striking a balance of dispensing justice and restoring confidence.
“Today’s announcement did just that. The Flint community has waited nearly seven years for these steps toward justice. I will continue to advocate for our community while praying for justice and healing. Flint is strong and we shall overcome these wrongs that were inflicted upon us.
“I continue to be appreciative to Attorney General Dana Nessel and her team for their commitment to finding the truth and fully investigating all possible criminal activity.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) issued the following statement:
“Today, our country is reminded that, no matter your position, power, or wealth, when you abuse the powers of your office and harm the very people you were sworn to serve, you will be held accountable.
These charges tell a story of broad systemic failure. I raised my voice against this for years, but these people lied to me, they lied to the people of Flint, they lied to everyone. They caused unforgivable harm to Flint’s children and betrayed the trust of a city.
While criminal charges can’t undo the lifetime effects of lead exposure, nor can they bring back our loved ones lost to Legionnaires’, legal action does mean that those who inflicted pain on every member of this community will have to answer for their crimes.”
U.S. Representative, 5th District, Dan Kildee issued the following statement:
“What happened to the people of Flint is a terrible tragedy. Justice for Flint families comes in many forms, including holding state officials accountable for what they did to Flint.
“While I never prejudge the outcome of any criminal charges, I support the Flint water crisis investigation following the facts, wherever they may lead. No one is above the law.
“Justice for Flint also comes by making sure families have access to critical resources, like the Flint Registry and other health care, educational and nutritional services, that can help mitigate the effects of lead exposure.
“Flint families deserve our continued support and we owe it to other communities to learn the lessons of the water crisis so it never happens elsewhere.”
EVM Managing Editor, Tom Travis, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org