Re­port: Mich. plans to charge ex-gov­er­nor over Flint wa­ter

- Ed White and David Eg­gert Crime · U.S. News · White-collar Crime · Michigan · Flint · Detroit · Lyon · Covington, Michigan · Republican Party (United States) · Richard Snyder · Genesee County · Genesee, Michigan · Dana Nessel

DE­TROIT – 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 scan­dal, which dev­as­tated the ma­jor­ity Black city with lead­con­tam­i­nated wa­ter and was blamed for a deadly out­break of Le­gion­naires’ dis­ease in 2014-15, The As­so­ci­ated Press has learned.

Two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the planned pros­e­cu­tion told the AP on Tues­day that the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice has in­formed de­fense lawyers about in­dict­ments in Flint and told them to ex­pect ini­tial court ap­pear­ances soon. They spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

The AP could not de­ter­mine the na­ture of the charges against Sny­der, for­mer health de­part­ment direc­tor Nick Lyon and others who were in the Sny­der ad­min­is­tra­tion. The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment on de­tails of the 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.

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.

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 said he knew that cases were re­ported many months ear­lier.

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

By June 2019, the en­tire Flint wa­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion was turned up­side down af­ter more than three years and mil­lions of dol­lars. 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 in­quiry would start anew.

The de­ci­sion didn’t af­fect seven peo­ple who had al­ready pleaded no con­test to mis­de­meanors. They co­op­er­ated with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and their records were even­tu­ally scrubbed clean.

Tes­ti­mony at court hear­ings had raised ques­tions about when Sny­der knew about the Le­gion­naires’ out­break. His ur­ban af­fairs ad­viser, Har­vey Hollins, told a judge that the gov­er­nor was in­formed on Christ­mas Eve 2015. But Sny­der had told re­porters three weeks later, in Jan­uary 2016, that he had just learned about it.

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