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Michigan plans to charge former Gov. Snyder, top aides in Flint water investigation

Former Gov. Rick Snyder testified about actions people took before and during the Flint water...
Former Gov. Rick Snyder testified about actions people took before and during the Flint water crisis as part of civil litigation on Thursday. (WJRT)
Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 2:40 PM EST
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DETROIT (AP) - Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and other former officials have been told they’re being charged after a new investigation of the Flint water crisis, the Associated Press has learned.

A source told ABC12 on Tuesday that a formal announcement of charges is planned Thursday, but the Michigan Attorney General’s Office could not comment

The AP could not determine the nature of the charges against Snyder, former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and others top aides in the Snyder administration.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on details of the ongoing investigation. Spokeswoman Courtney Covington Watkins said investigators were “working diligently” and “will share more as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”

Snyder’s attorney didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The attorney for Rich Baird, who was Snyder’s top adviser, issued a statement Tuesday confirming that he was made aware of pending charges and upcoming court dates. However, attorney Randall L. Levine said he is not aware of what specific charges will be filed.

Levine pointed out that Baird voluntarily took a lead role in the Snyder administration’s response to the Flint water crisis in 2014.

“Flint is where he was born and raised in a single parent blue collar home,” Levine said of Baird. “He is not a person of privilege as his mother was a waitress and a factory worker. Today, he still has family living in Flint.”

He said that Baird convened the first meeting of Mission Flint in 2016 and created a water credit relief program, which returned $42 million to Flint residents who could not use their water.

The attorney for Lyon called any possible charges against his client “an absolute travesty of justice.” Attorney Chip Chamberlain said the original charges filed against Lyon in 2017 were “politically motivated and meritless.”

Lyon and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells both were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roles in the Flint water crisis. Their lengthy preliminary hearings in Genesee County District Court had concluded and a judge bound them over to trial in circuit court before the Michigan Attorney General’s Office dismissed all charges.

Chamberlain said he and Lyon offered to meet with the team conducted a new criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis, but they were rejected.

“It appears that the Attorney General is more interested in creating a misleading narrative, seeking publicity and trial by ambush, than in seeking the truth,” Chamberlain said.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped uncover lead poisoning among children during the Flint water crisis, said the pending charges and upcoming legal process about to unfold will help heal scars from the crisis.

“This news is a salve, but it isn’t the end of the story,” she posted on Twitter. “Healing wounds and restoring trust will take decades and long-term resources.”

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 by some as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

At the same time, bacteria in the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. 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.

In 2018, Lyon was ordered to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges after a special prosecutor accused him of failing to timely inform the public about the outbreak. His attorneys argued there was not enough solid information to share earlier with the public.

By June 2019, the entire Flint water investigation was turned upside down. Prosecutors working under a new attorney general, Dana Nessel, dismissed the case against Lyon as well as charges against seven more people and said the probe would start anew.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.