Charges laid against nine Michigan officials in Flint water crisis

Flint Water Treatment Plant sign
Flint water treatment plant. Photo credit: lindaparton, Adobe Stock.

The former Governor of Michigan, as well as city staff that includes the former director of public works, are now facing a series of charges related to the Flint lead-tainted tap water crisis from six years ago.

Michigan prosecutors announced 42 counts last week related to a series of alleged actions and inactions that created the crisis in 2014. As many as 9,000 children under the age of six in Flint were treated following exposure to high levels of lead from the city’s drinking water until 2016.

“When an entire city is victimized by the negligence and indifference of those in power, it deserves an uncompromising investigation that holds to account anyone who is criminally culpable. That is what all residents in this state are entitled to, regardless of their ZIP code. And that is what this prosecution team did,” announced Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud.

Former Governor of Michigan, Richard Snyder, faces two counts of willful neglect of duty that each represents one year in jail and/or fines of $1,000. Howard Croft, former director of the City of Flint Department of Public Works, faces the same charges.

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More substantial charges, however, were announced for Eden Wells, Flint’s former chief medical executive in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. She faces nine counts of involuntary manslaughter – each a 15-year felony and/or a fine of $7,500. Wells also faces two counts of misconduct in office – each a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine, and one count of willful neglect of duty – a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine.

Also facing nine counts of involuntary manslaughter is Nicolas Lyon, Flint’s former director at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Other charges against city officials — nine in total — range from official misconduct in office, to extortion and perjury.

News of the charges came just days before the state received preliminary approval of a $600-million agreement to settle the lawsuits filed against Michigan after the City of Flint switched its public water supply to the Flint River in 2014.

“While final approval remains pending, the settlement can provide people with security that their claims will be heard and not tied up in legal proceedings for an indefinite period of time,” announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The crisis occurred when officials sought to switch its water supplier from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority. A new pipeline was under construction to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. But while construction got underway, the crisis emerged when officials temporarily changed the city’s water supply to the Flint River, which led to reports of odd colour, smell and taste from the water source.

Charges had previously been filed in connection to the Flint water crisis, but in June 2019 the charges were dropped after concerns arose about the Office of Special Counsel’s investigative approach.

Prosecutors said more charges may be coming as their investigation continues.

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