Flint water probe brings charges against ex-governor, others

  • Former Gov. Rick Snyder walks past the media after his video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 outside the Genesee County Jail in downtown Flint.  Snyder pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint.  (Cody Scanlan/The Flint Journal via AP)

    Former Gov. Rick Snyder walks past the media after his video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 outside the Genesee County Jail in downtown Flint. Snyder pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint. (Cody Scanlan/The Flint Journal via AP) Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2018 file photo, former Michigan state medical executive Dr. Eden Wells appears in Flint, Mich. Wells, was charged during a video appearance before a Genesee County court Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in Flint, Mich., with involuntary manslaughter in deaths linked to the Flint water crisis. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

    FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2018 file photo, former Michigan state medical executive Dr. Eden Wells appears in Flint, Mich. Wells, was charged during a video appearance before a Genesee County court Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in Flint, Mich., with involuntary manslaughter in deaths linked to the Flint water crisis. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP) Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2018, file photo, Nick Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is seen in Flint, Mich. Lyon was charged Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires' disease in the Flint water crisis. Nick Lyon pleaded not guilty during a video appearance before a Genesee County court. Lyon also was charged with a count of willful neglect of duty. He worked for then-Gov. Rick Snyder (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

    FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2018, file photo, Nick Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is seen in Flint, Mich. Lyon was charged Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires' disease in the Flint water crisis. Nick Lyon pleaded not guilty during a video appearance before a Genesee County court. Lyon also was charged with a count of willful neglect of duty. He worked for then-Gov. Rick Snyder (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File) Associated Press

  • In this image taken from video, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, right, with his lawyer, Brian Lennon, make an initial court appearance at Genesee County court in Flint, Mich., on two counts of willful neglect of duty in the Flint water crisis. (Genesee County court via AP)

    In this image taken from video, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, right, with his lawyer, Brian Lennon, make an initial court appearance at Genesee County court in Flint, Mich., on two counts of willful neglect of duty in the Flint water crisis. (Genesee County court via AP) Associated Press

  • In this image taken from video, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, with his lawyer, Brian Lennon, leave Genesee County Court in Flint, Mich., Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, after a Zoom initial court appearance on two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty in connection to the Flint water crisis.

    In this image taken from video, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, with his lawyer, Brian Lennon, leave Genesee County Court in Flint, Mich., Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, after a Zoom initial court appearance on two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty in connection to the Flint water crisis. Associated Press

  • The Flint Water Plant tower is shown in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.  Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis.

    The Flint Water Plant tower is shown in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis. Associated Press

  • A section of the Flint River is shown in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.   Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis.

    A section of the Flint River is shown in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis. Associated Press

  • Vehicles drive through downtown Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis.

    Vehicles drive through downtown Flint, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Some Flint residents impacted by months of lead-tainted water are looking past expected charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration to healing physical and emotional damages left by the crisis. Associated Press

  • This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder was charged with two misdemeanor counts willful neglect of duty Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder was charged with two misdemeanor counts willful neglect of duty Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich. shows Jarrod Agen. Agen, former chief of staff for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with felony perjury Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich. shows Jarrod Agen. Agen, former chief of staff for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with felony perjury Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Eden Wells, the former Michigan Chief Medical Officer, who was charged with nine felony counts involuntary manslaughter, and two felony counts misconduct in office on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Eden Wells, the former Michigan Chief Medical Officer, who was charged with nine felony counts involuntary manslaughter, and two felony counts misconduct in office on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Nancy Peeler, the former Michigan Early Childhood Health Section manager, who was charged with two felony counts misconduct in office and misdemeanor willful neglect of duty Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Nancy Peeler, the former Michigan Early Childhood Health Section manager, who was charged with two felony counts misconduct in office and misdemeanor willful neglect of duty Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Gerald Ambrose, the former Flint Emergency Manager, who was charged with four counts of misconduct in office on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Gerald Ambrose, the former Flint Emergency Manager, who was charged with four counts of misconduct in office on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Howard Croft, the former Flint Director of Public Works, who was charged with nine felony counts involuntary manslaughter, and two felony counts misconduct in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This Jan. 14, 2021 photo provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Howard Croft, the former Flint Director of Public Works, who was charged with nine felony counts involuntary manslaughter, and two felony counts misconduct in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint water crisis in Flint, Mich. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This image provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Darnell Earley, the former Flint, Mich., Emergency Manager, who was charged with three felony counts of misconduct in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This image provided by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint, Mich., shows Darnell Earley, the former Flint, Mich., Emergency Manager, who was charged with three felony counts of misconduct in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This image provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows Nicolas Lyon, the former Michigan Health Department Director, who was charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, and a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This image provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows Nicolas Lyon, the former Michigan Health Department Director, who was charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, and a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty in office, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This image provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows Richard Baird, the former Michigan Transformation manager, who was charged Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, with felony perjury and other charges, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This image provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows Richard Baird, the former Michigan Transformation manager, who was charged Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, with felony perjury and other charges, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

  • This combo of images provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows the nine former state-appointed and local officials charged, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. Top row from left: Jarrod Agen, former chief of staff to Gov. Snyder; Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager; Richard Baird, former Michigan Transformation manager; Howard Croft, former Flint Director of Public Works; Darnell Earley, former state-appointed emergency manager. Bottom row from left: Nicolas Lyon, former Health and Human Services Director; Nancy Peeler, former early childhood health section manager in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder; and Eden Wells, former Michigan Chief Medical Officer. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP)

    This combo of images provided by the Genesee County, Mich., Sheriff's Office, shows the nine former state-appointed and local officials charged, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in connection with the Flint, Mich., water crisis. Top row from left: Jarrod Agen, former chief of staff to Gov. Snyder; Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager; Richard Baird, former Michigan Transformation manager; Howard Croft, former Flint Director of Public Works; Darnell Earley, former state-appointed emergency manager. Bottom row from left: Nicolas Lyon, former Health and Human Services Director; Nancy Peeler, former early childhood health section manager in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder; and Eden Wells, former Michigan Chief Medical Officer. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office via AP) Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/14/2021 8:48 PM

FLINT, Mich. -- A new investigation of the Flint water disaster led to charges against nine people, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and key members of his administration, who are accused of various crimes in a calamitous plan that contaminated the community with lead and contributed to a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, authorities said Thursday.

Nearly seven years after the doomed decision to use the Flint River, pipes at more than 9,700 Flint homes have been replaced and water quality has greatly improved. But prosecutors said it's not too late to pursue people responsible for one of the worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.

 

It's the second time that six of the nine people have faced charges; their previous cases were dropped in 2019 when a new prosecution team took over. Snyder is the biggest new name in the bunch, though his alleged crimes are not as serious as others: two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty.

Snyder's former health director, Nick Lyon, and ex-chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, were charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2015 deaths of nine people with Legionnaires'. Authorities said they failed to alert the public about a regional spike in Legionnaires' when the water system might have lacked enough chlorine to combat bacteria in the river water.

'úThe Flint water crisis is not some relic of the past,'Ě Fadwa Hammoud of the state attorney general's office told reporters. 'úAt this very moment, the people of Flint continue to suffer from the categorical failure of public officials at all levels of government who trampled upon their trust and evaded accountability for far too long.'Ě

The charges stemmed from evidence presented to Judge David Newblatt, who served as a secret one-person grand jury. All nine defendants pleaded not guilty during a series of brief court appearances.

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The indictment alleges that Snyder failed to check the 'úperformance, condition and administration'Ě of his appointees and protect Flint's nearly 100,000 residents when he knew the threat. The Republican served as governor from 2011 through 2018.

Wearing a mask, Snyder, 62, said little during his hearing, which was conducted by video. He replied, 'úYes, your honor,'Ě when asked if he was living in Michigan. A conviction carries up to a year in jail.

Snyder has acknowledged that his administration failed in Flint. But his attorney, Brian Lennon, said a criminal case against him was a 'útravesty.'Ě

'úThese unjustified allegations do nothing to resolve a painful chapter in the history of our state,'Ě Lennon said. 'úToday's actions merely perpetrate an outrageous political persecution.'Ě

In 2014, a Snyder-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who was running the financially struggling, majority Black city, carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The corrosive water, however, wasn't treated properly, a misstep that freed lead from old plumbing and into homes. Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration, especially drinking water regulators, took no significant action until a doctor publicly reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. Flint's woes were highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism. The city resumed getting water from a Detroit regional system in October 2015, though bottled water and filters were distributed for years.

Former Mayor Karen Weaver, who was elected in 2015 after the disaster was recognized, said Snyder deserved more than misdemeanors.

'úSnyder got a slap on the wrist and Flint got a slap in the face. ... Not only did people lose their lives through Legionnaires', we know women who had stillbirths and miscarriages,'Ě Weaver said.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County during the 2014-15 water switch, including 12 deaths. Legionella bacteria can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

Defense attorney Chip Chamberlain said Lyon, the former health director, relied on the advice of experts when following the Legionnaires' spike and forming policy as head of a sprawling agency.

'úThis is a dangerous day for state employees,'Ě Chamberlain said of the charges.

Steve Tramontin - a lawyer for Wells, the ex-medical executive - called the allegations false and 'úunimaginable to anyone familiar with the level of dedication she has brought to her life's work.'Ě

Prosecutors charged Earley and another former Flint manager, Gerald Ambrose, with misconduct. Rich Baird, a friend and close adviser to Snyder, was charged with extortion, perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct. Jarrod Agen, who was Snyder's chief of staff, was charged with perjury.

Attorney Charles Spies disputed the charge against Agen and said he cooperated 'úfully and truthfully'Ě with investigators.

The indictment accuses Baird, a Flint native, of making threats during a university-led investigation of the Legionnaires' outbreak. He's also accused of lying during an interview with Flint water investigators in 2017.

'úThere are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system,'Ě Hammoud said. 'úNobody - no matter how powerful or well-connected - is above accountability when they commit a crime.'Ě

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents. A judge said she hopes to decide by Jan. 21 whether to grant preliminary approval.

Melodie Ingraham, 61, whose skin was irritated by the tainted water, said the criminal charges don't mean much to her.

'úIt's awful late in the day. They're worried about the wrong thing," Ingraham said. "The issue is getting Flint back up and running, being safe again.'Ě

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White reported from Detroit and Eggert reported from Lansing, Mich.

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