Former Gov. Rick Snyder, top aides, Flint officials arraigned on Flint water charges
He faces up to a year in jail or up to $1,000 in fines
FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Former Gov. Rick Snyder, seven senior officials in his administration and a former Flint city official faced a judge in Genesee County’s 67th District Court for arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis.
All nine suspects, who are facing a total of 42 criminal charges, were booked into the Genesee County Jail before their court appearances Thursday morning.
Snyder was arraigned on two counts of willful neglect of duty and pleaded not guilty. He is the first of Michigan’s 49 governors in 184 years to face charges related to their time in office.
Prosecutors allege that he failed to follow his statutory duties as governor and under the Michigan Emergency Manager Act. If convicted, he could face up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
Nick Lyon, the former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director under Snyder, is facing some of the most serious charges. He was arraigned on nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and one misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty.
Prosecutors allege Lyon failed to protect the health and welfare of Flint residents. Lyon pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Eden Wells, the former chief medical executive for Michigan under Snyder, is facing the most charges. She was arraigned on nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty.
Prosecutors allege that Wells failed to protect the health of Flint residents with “grossly negligent performance of her legal duties.” Specifically, she is accused of preventing the distribution of information about a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Flint during the water crisis.
Wells pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Nancy Peeler, the former director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was arraigned on two felony counts of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty.
She is accused of misrepresenting data about elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint children during the water crisis. Peeler pleaded not guilty Thursday and could face up to five years in prison if she is convicted.
Rich Baird, a Flint native and former top adviser to Snyder, is charged with perjury during an investigation, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and extortion. He pleaded not guilty and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Baird is accused of improperly using state resources, lying under oath, attempting to interfere with investigators and threatening a state-appointed research team during the investigation.
Jarrod Agen, a former top aide to Snyder, was arraigned on one felony count of perjury during an investigative subpoena, which carries up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He is accused of lying to investigators under oath.
Two former emergency managers appointed to manage the city of Flint during Snyder’s administration are facing charges. Gerald Ambrose is facing four counts of felony misconduct in office while Darnell Earley is facing two counts of willful neglect of duty.
Both former emergency managers, who are accused of financial crimes, pleaded not guilty on Thursday morning and could face up to five years in prison if convicted. Earley also is accused of providing misinformation about the quality of Flint’s water.
Howard Croft, a former Flint Department of Public Works director, was arraigned on two counts of willful neglect of duty Thursday. He also pleaded not guilty and was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
Croft is accused of failing to ensure the quality of Flint’s municipal water supply.
Snyder’s attorney Brian Lennon released a statement shortly after the arraignment saying the charges filed against the former governor are “wholly without merit” and claiming the situation is “puzzling.” Lennon claimed that prosecutors leaked information about Snyder’s charges earlier this week but didn’t give them any information until Thursday.
“It would be a travesty to waste additional taxpayer dollars pursuing these bogus misdemeanor charges. We are confident Governor Snyder will be fully exonerated if this flimsy case goes to trial,” said Lennon.
He said the charges filed against Snyder will not bring justice to Flint residents poisoned during the water crisis.
“These unjustified allegations do nothing to resolve a painful chapter in the history of our state. Today’s actions merely perpetrate an outrageous political persecution,” Lennon said.
Chip Chamberlain, who is representing Lyon, issued a statement Thursday expressing regret that Flint residents suffered during the water crisis. But he said Lyon is innocent of all charges filed against him.
“Our hearts go out to Flint citizens who have endured the fallout from that decision. But it does not help the people of Flint – or our criminal justice system – for the State to charge innocent people with crimes,” Chamberlain said.
He claimed that Lyon was not involved in switching Flint’s water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River in April 2014, which led to widespread lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
“Everything he did as director of the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) he did based on the advice of highly trained epidemiologists and public health scientists and experts who themselves were looking at the science and following the data,” Chamberlain said.
Attorney Randy Levine, who is representing Baird, said the charges against his client “appear to be politically motivated.” Levine said Baird is innocent and “being unfairly prosecuted by the State’s democratic attorney general.”
Baird did not face charges under the previous investigation started under former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, but he appeared before prosecutors voluntarily to offer testimony “because he had nothing to hide,” Levine said.
Levine pointed out that Baird was born and raised in Flint and volunteered to help when the Flint water crisis started. Baird worked on projects to provide all Flint residents with free water filters and replace lead water service lines citywide.
“The people of Flint are justifiably upset and angry about what happened in Flint. Their government failed them at so many levels,” Levine said. “However, the evidence will show that Rich Baird is not responsible for what occurred to the folks in the town where he grew up. I expect that he will be vindicated.”
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy led Michigan’s second investigation into the water crisis beginning in 2019. They scrapped an investigation started under former Attorney General Bill Schuette and started over.
At that time, charges were dropped against several senior members of Snyder’s administration, including former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells. Both had were awaiting trial in Genesee County Circuit Court.
Snyder was governor when the Michigan Department of Treasury appointed emergency managers to oversee Flint’s day-to-day city operations in place of elected officials. The city switched its drinking water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River while under emergency control.
However, the Flint Water Plant did not properly treat the more corrosive river water and it ate away the protective lining on lead and galvanized water service lines. That allowed microscopic bits of lead to break off the pipes and enter the water supply, poisoning everyone who drank it.
Copyright 2021 WJRT. All rights reserved.