Flint Water Crisis: Michigan AG Poised to Indict Ex-Gov Snyder, Other Officials, Later This Week, But on What Charges?

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The Associated Press reports in Michigan plans to charge ex-Gov. Snyder in Flint water probe that former Michigan Rick Snyder will later be criminally charged for actions related to the Flint water crisis.

The AP report is sparse on key details, as are all the follow-on reports I have seen.

I turn to the Detroit News account, Michigan plans to charge ex-Gov. Snyder in Flint water probe, the most comprehensive I have seen so far:

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, top aide Rich Baird and former health director Nick Lyon have been told they will face criminal charges resulting from Flint’s water crisis, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Former Flint Public Works director Howard Croft also expects to be charged again, his lawyer, Jamie White, confirmed Tuesday. White said he was informed Monday about the development.

Up to 10 individuals, including members of Snyder’s executive office, are set to be formally indicted as soon as Thursday after Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office launched a new investigation in 2019, the source confirmed to The Detroit News.

The Flint water scandal contaminated the African American-majority city’s drinking water with lead and was blamed for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-15 while Snyder was governor. The looming charges likely mean the state’s former top officeholder will face a high stakes legal battle over his administration’s handling of the scandal.

The money question: what charges will be brought against Snyder and his aides? No one seems to know. (Or those that do are not saying.)

From the Detroit News:

The News could not discern what kind of charges would be brought against Snyder, Lyon, Baird and Croft.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Courtney Covington said Tuesday. “The team is working diligently, though and we do hope to have an announcement on the status of that investigation soon.”

Snyder approved putting the city of Flint into state emergency management and was responsible for the state’s response to the lead contamination. Baird oversaw Flint’s recovery effort, Lyon handled the state’s responses to the city’s public health problems and Croft was responsible for dealing with the city’s water problems.

Still others are asking that question. From the AP account:

LeeAnne Walters, a mother of four who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, said she wants details about the charges.

“The very fact that people are being held accountable is an amazing feat,” Walters said. “But when people’s lives have been lost and children have been severely hurt, it doesn’t seem like enough.”

Spin and Jubilation

Snyder’s team is – unsurprisingly -already spinning the pending indictments as motivated by mere partisan politics.

Of course they are! But does that make them any less legitimate?

Again from the Detroit News:

Brian Lennon, an attorney who represents Snyder, said it’s “outrageous to think any criminal charges would be filed against” the former two-term Republican governor.

“Coming from an administration that claims to be above partisan politics, it is deeply disappointing to see pure political motivation driving charging decisions,” Lennon added.

Miracle dictu, will some public officials finally be held accountable for their Flint misdeeds?

Criminal charges are the only avenue still open to Michigan to hold these officials accountable – as an earlier $640 million settlement of civil charges against state officials, currently agreed but awaiting court approval – released them from all civil liability.

And a lengthy section in which the Detroit News allowed the lawyers for those expected to be accused to sputter on about how outrageous these indictments are, the paper then turned over the floor to Former Flint mayor, Karen Weaver express her pleasure at the state of affairs:

Weaver, who was in office from 2015 to 2019, couldn’t contain her excitement Tuesday when told about the expected charges being brought against Snyder and others.

“It’s just wonderful. It’s finally here. It’s hitting me right now,” said Weaver, who has been pressing for Snyder to be charged for years. “It’s about time. All evidence pointed to him that he knew, that he knew what was going on. It was a cover-up for 18 long months that something was going on with Flint and the water.”

Weaver, a Democrat, said she was pleased to hear that charges are also coming against Baird and others “because you cannot do that by yourself.”

“Now I hope that they are convicted,” she said. “That’s what’s needs to happen next because people in Flint have been damaged. People in Flint have lost lives at their hands.”

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 while a new regional authority pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. But the acidic river water leached lead from the city’s old pipes because it was not properly treated, a decision that a Snyder-appointed independent commission blamed for the lead contamination.

Given the lack of details on exactly what criminal charges Snyder and the others face, I think I’ll stop here, to revisit the topic later. But the news we have so far looks promising.

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10 comments

  1. JTMcPhee

    I see in today’s Links that Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes are facing criminal charges based on the federal mail fraud and wire fraud statues, among other items. One wonders whether aspects of Snyder, et al’s conduct might fit into similar criminal liability, not to mention RICO.

    Not that the members of the Club who fill out the government structures we suffer under would allow such prosecutions. Invoking the Madoff Rule, that it’s not criminal unless you do it to other members of the Club…

    Reply
  2. chuck roast

    How about negligent homicide? Sounds about right to me.

    Negligent homicide is the killing of another person through gross negligence or without malice. It is characterized as a death caused by conduct that grossly deviated from ordinary care. Negligent homicide may be charged as a lesser-included offense of manslaughter. It is also sometimes referred to as “involuntary manslaughter”. State laws vary, so local law should be consulted for specific requirements.

    Could be manslaughter. It was all without “malice aforethought” after all. When you simply don’t give a $hit, there is no real malice aforethought. So, this seems like a good fit.

    He can always call Sleepy Joe as a character witness.

    Anyway, it’ll prolly be “10 our fathers and 10 hail Marys” and let’s hit the links for 18.

    Reply
  3. Matthew G. Saroff

    I did an analysis on my blog. (Note: that I am not a lawyer, nor am I in law enforcement)

    The nickel tour of my thinking is that it is obstruction of justice.

    If it were something like criminally negligent homicide, or bribery, you would see a progression in prosecution as people at the bottom are flipped to testify against people above them.

    To go after all of them at once, you are likely looking at something like obstruction of justice, proving that once again, it ain’t the crime, it’s the coverup.

    Reply
  4. jalrin

    If they really want to go for it, their best options are fraud and theft by deception. As we discussed at the last pre-Covid Birmingham meet-up, all you have to prove was that the defendants either lied or suppressed facts they were required to disclosed in order to trick the residents into purchasing more water or to convince Flint’s creditors and bondholders to give them a better deal (by hiding the size of Flint’s contingent liabilities). This is the most straightforward way to prosecute them and results in the potential for the longest sentences because you can have a count per victim which through the magic of consecutive sentencing can result in effectively life sentences.

    Reply
  5. Shiloh1

    I get that the acidic water supplied by the Flint Water plant sourced from the Flint River caused the lead from the lead pipes to mobilize in solution to the household taps.

    What I have a hard time believing is that after a 140 years of heavy industry in the area, including what was once the world’s largest auto plant 100 years ago on the river upstream of the water supply plant, that there were no other contaminants in the river water to the water supply plant.

    Anyway in every city with lead pipes there has to be complete, not partial, replacement.

    Got Cu ? Use the GND/climate change part of the Fed printer to fund.

    Reply
    1. Objective Ace

      It wasnt the flint water per se that was the problem. It was that the water wasnt properly treated before going into the public pipes.

      Its good public policy to replace lead pipes everywhere, but the improperly treated water in Flint corroded the pipes orders of magnitude faster than lead pipes corrode elsewhere which compounded the issue

      Reply
      1. Shiloh1

        Thanks. I found that In Chicago they use polyphosphate for water treating before distribution. The city is still riddled with lead pipe service lines from street to house.

        This problem is a “known-known”.

        All of the politicians are negligent.

        Reply
  6. John Anthony La Pietra

    The question of what charges would/could/should be brought against whom depends in part on what actions when they’d be charged for. Remember that the big controversy about current Attorney General Nessel tossing out the old investigation and starting over was because there wasn’t much time left for ordinary 6-year statutes of limitation to run from the disaster’s 2014 starting point.

    Forms of homicide have longer limitations periods (or none at all). Alternately, if a criminal act happened in (for example only) February 2018, even that six-year period wouldn’t be half gone yet.

    Here’s a good round-up of state statutes of limutations for a variety of crimes:

    https://statelaws.findlaw.com/michigan-law/michigan-criminal-statute-of-limitations-laws.html

    Anyway, we may hear more at a press conference 11:30am ET tomorrow:

    https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2021/01/13/attorney-general-dana-nesselflint-water/6653508002/

    Reply

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