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Several Flint water defendants ask court to hold preliminary hearings

One-man grand jury process sent all of their cases directly to trial in Genesee County Circuit Court
These nine people are facing charges from the new Flint water crisis criminal investigation.
These nine people are facing charges from the new Flint water crisis criminal investigation.(source: WJRT)
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 1:26 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Several of the nine people charged with crimes related to the Flint water crisis are asking the courts to take a step back.

Prosecutors from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office used a one-man grand jury to issue indictments against all nine defendants, which allowed their cases to bypass preliminary hearings in district court and proceed directly to trials in circuit court.

Attorneys for Rich Baird, a top adviser to former Gov. Rick Snyder, filed a motion in Genesee County Circuit Court on Friday asking to have his case sent down to Genesee County District Court for a traditional preliminary hearing. That would allow a judge to hear testimony and determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

Attorney Randall Levine, who is representing Baird, said several of the eight other defendants support the motion and want preliminary hearings in their cases as well. He did not name which defendants are joining his motion.

The Michigan law allowing for a one-man grand jury, who was Genesee County Judge David Newblatt in this case, dates back more than a century. Levine said the Flint water defendants still don’t have full information about what prosecutors are alleging against them two months after the indictments were released.

He alleges that prosecutors used the grand jury law to circumvent each defendants’ statutory rights to preliminary hearings before their trials. Defense attorneys are asking for the court to rule on whether the one-man grand jury law still allows for preliminary hearings.

A hearing on the request has not been scheduled in Genesee County Circuit Court.

Each defendant charged after the first investigation into the Flint water crisis under former Attorney General Bill Schuette appeared for a preliminary hearing. Many of the hearings dragged on for about a year before judges sent the cases to trial in Genesee County Circuit Court.

Prosecutors under Attorney General Dana Nessel’s administration dropped all charges before the trials started, however. A new investigation started in 2019 led to new charges against the nine defendants.

Indictments against the nine Flint water defendants make the following allegations:

Former Gov. Rick Snyder

  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to properly supervise employees under his administration
  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to protect residents by declaring a State of Emergency for Flint.
  • Snyder faces up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine if convicted.

Baird

  • Perjury during an investigative subpoena review for allegedly making false statements under oath to a special assistant attorney general on March 1, 2017.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly misusing public resources while working for Snyder.
  • Obstruction of justice for allegedly interfering with ongoing legal investigation of the Flint water crisis.
  • Extortion for allegedly threatening a leader of the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership during the investigation into a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
  • Baird faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells

  • Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the deaths of John Snyder, Debra Kidd, Brian McHugh, DuWayne Nelson, Nelda Hunt, Peter Derscha, Thomas Mulcahy, Arthur Percy and Patricia Schaffer in July and August 2015 from Legionnaires’ disease.
  • Two counts of misconduct in office for allegedly preventing information about a Legionnaires’ outbreak to be circulated in Genesee County.
  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to protect the health and welfare of Flint residents.
  • Wells faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Nick Lyon, former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director

  • Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the deaths of John Snyder, Debra Kidd, Brian McHugh, DuWayne Nelson, Nelda Hunt, Peter Derscha, Thomas Mulcahy, Arthur Percy and Patricia Schaffer in July and August 2015 from Legionnaires’ disease.
  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to protect the health and welfare of Flint residents.
  • Lyon faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed Flint emergency manager

  • Misconduct in office for allegedly allowing the city of Flint to incur debt in violation of Michigan law.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly failing to switch Flint’s drinking water source back to Detroit’s system when he had knowledge of ongoing water quality and health concerns with the Flint River water being used from January to April 2015.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly directing a Flint consultant investigating water quality and health concerns not to consider switching the city back to Detroit’s water system in early 2015.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly committing the city of Flint to a $7 million emergency loan in April 2015 aimed at addressing its ongoing budget deficit shortly before leaving office. The loan allegedly impeded the city’s efforts to switch back to Detroit’s water system.
  • Ambrose faces up for five years in prison if convicted.

Darnell Earley, former state-appointed Flint emergency manager

  • Misconduct in office for allegedly allowing the city of Flint to incur debt in violation of Michigan law.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly distributing misleading information about the quality of Flint’s drinking water on Jan. 2 and 9, 2015, and refusing to switch the city back to Detroit’s water system when he had concerns about ongoing water quality and health concerns.
  • Earley faces up for five years in prison if convicted.

Nancy Peeler, manager of the Early Childhood Health Section at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

  • Misconduct in office for allegedly concealing the results of an epidemiological analysis concerning elevated blood lead levels of Flint children on July 25, 2015.
  • Misconduct in office for allegedly misrepresenting information concerning elevated blood lead levels of Flint children on Sept. 23, 2015.
  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to act upon indications of elevated blood lead levels of Flint children from July through September 2015.
  • Peeler faces up for five years in prison if convicted.

Jarrod Agen, former director of communications for the Snyder administration

  • Perjury during an investigative subpoena review for allegedly making false statements under oath to a special assistant attorney general investigating the Flint water crisis on on Feb. 11, 2017.
  • Agen faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Howard Croft, former Flint Department of Public Works director

  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to communicate the risks of health effects facing the Flint water system.
  • Willful neglect of duty for allegedly failing to communicate concerns about corrosion in the Flint water system.
  • Croft faces up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine if convicted.

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