Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged Wednesday with two counts of willful neglect of duty
as part of an investigation into the Flint water crisis — misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 each, according to court documents released Wednesday.
The revelation that Snyder would be charged in the case stunned many who feared the statute of limitations in the case had run out
, while others complained that the charges were not enough considering the human toll of the water crisis. The disaster poisoned thousands with lead and was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed at least 12, and last year, Michigan announced a historic $600 million settlement
for the victims.
The question is: what did Snyder know, and when did he know it? According to Genesee County District Court records, the charges stem from an offense on April 25, 2014, the date when Snyder's state-appointed emergency managers temporarily switched the city's water supply from the Detroit Water System to the corrosive Flint River as part of a cost-saving measure while a new supply line to Lake Huron was built.
In 2016, Snyder testified to Congress that he first learned of Flint's Legionnaires' disease outbreak that January, and held a press conference the next day. But according to a report by journalists published by The Intercept
, Snyder knew about a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Flint as early as October 2014.
That's when a "flurry of suspicious calls" between Snyder, his chief of staff, and health director were made, leading investigators to pursue charges against Snyder, according to the report.
"This evidence shows the Governor, his administration, [former Michigan health department director Nick Lyon], and the [Michigan Health and Hospital Association] knew about this outbreak of Legionnaires’ in October 2014, and were interested in keeping the information from going public," former Flint special prosecutor Todd Flood wrote in reference to calls, according to documents obtained by The Intercept
In another story by The Intercept
reporters — Jordan Chariton and Jenn Dize of the independent organization Status Coup — published last year by Metro Times,
audio recordings suggested Snyder's "fixer" Richard Baird lied about Snyder and other officials receiving no major warning about the toxic water in 2014.
In 2019, prosecutors scrapped their investigation into Flint
in order to start from scratch, citing a flawed investigation under the previous Attorney General, Republican Bill Schuette. According to The Intercept
, investigators in the case even considered an involuntary manslaughter charge against Snyder.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is expected to hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday to offer more information on the new charges.
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.