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Snyder, 8 others charged with Flint water-related crimes

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Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is one of nine defendants criminally charged today (THU) related to the Flint water crisis.

Snyder faces two misdemeanor counts of neglect of duty by a public official. Others face more serious charges including felony misconduct and perjury.

The arraignments were carried out over Zoom. Snyder appeared alongside his attorney and uttered just a single brief sentence in answer to a question from the judge:

“You’re living in the state of Michigan right now? Is that correct?”

“Yes, your honor.”

Snyder is a Republican who served from 2011 to 2019. A millionaire investor and retired computer tech executive, he promised to bring a more business-like approach to state government. In the case of Flint, that appears to be what got him into trouble.

Snyder appointed a team to try to rescue the city of Flint from bankruptcy. One of those money-saving decisions was made in 2014: disconnect Flint from the Detroit city water system and draw water instead from the Flint River. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but it had long-term disastrous results. The untreated water caused lead to leach from old pipes, and contaminate the water supply used by nearly 100 thousand people.

That action seven years ago, led today to these arraignments of Snyder, an emergency manager, and other former public officials. While others face more serious charges, Rick Snyder is the marquee defendant. 

“Let me be clear: There are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system…”

Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud led the state’s Flint water investigation.          

“Nobody, no matter how powerful or well connected, is above accountability when they commit a crime,” said Hammoud.

The charges were handed up by a grand jury that met in secret. The evidence presented to the grand jury has not yet been made public.

But Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who helped with the investigation, says the evidence will show this was more than a bureaucratic blunder.

“This goes far beyond leading a large organization or someone in an organization makes a mistake or fails to supervise," says Worthy. "As the evidence comes out, it will become plain to see why, in fact, criminal charges were absolutely necessary in this case.”

Even so, that may be difficult for prosecutors to prove. Multiple legal experts say it’s very hard to convict public officials for an  on-the-job failures.

Arthur Weiss is a criminal defense attorney who’s handled public corruption and misconduct cases, usually for police officers.

“I don’t know what she has, so I can’t comment on the sufficiency or the adequacy of the evidence," said Weiss. "I can just indicate there’s some hurdles there that they’re going to have to overcome or they’re not going to be successful.”

Flint resident Montez Edwards says he was afraid no would be held responsible for what happened in his city.

“They cut measures to make sure it was cheaper, but they just damaged the city by doing it," said Edwards. "They made it harder on the people who stayed here. And he just goes out in the sunset.”

In Flint, most of the pipes have been replaced and the water system was long ago reconnected Detroit’s. A federal judge will decide soon whether to accept a civil settlement topping 600 million dollars.

But Flint, the city that Snyder and the other defendants tried to save, is still widely known as the city with lead-tainted water.