Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been indicted on misdemeanor charges on Thursday for his role in the Flint water crisis, according to the Detroit Free Press.
At his court appearance on Thursday, Snyder, 62, was seated next to his attorney, Brian Lennon, in a Genesee County jail booth during the virtual hearing via Zoom. During the arraignment, he was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty and pleaded not guilty to both charges, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Genesee District Court Judge Christopher Odette, set a personal recognizance bond of $10,000 on each charge for Snyder. The former Michigan governor is also not allowed to leave the state of Michigan, the Press reported.
Each charge Snyder faces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $1,000, the Press reported.
The Flint water scandal, which began in 2014, exposed residents in the mostly Black community to lead-contaminated water and was looked at as the cause of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, The Associated Press reported.
Snyder, a Republican who has been out of office for two years, was in office when state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 as a way to save money while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water, however, was not treated to reduce corrosion, a disastrous decision affirmed by state regulators that caused lead to leach from old pipes and poisoned the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents, the Detroit Free Press reported.
For years state health officials in Michigan have set the official death toll for the Legionnaires’ outbreak amid the Flint water crisis at 12 people, reported the Washington Post. But in 2019, Frontline reported it found 115 people in Flint died of pneumonia during the roughly year-and-a-half that the outbreak spanned. The PBS Frontline investigation, “Flint’s Deadly Water,” reported on Flint’s 2014 Legionnaires’ outbreak, and how the death toll may have been far worse than previously reported.
Since 2014, at least 15 current or former state and city officials and staff have been indicted in connection to the water crisis, CBS reported.
In 2016, the Attorney General’s office filed charges against multiple people, but in 2019 those facing felony charges saw them dismissed. The latest charges stemmed from a newer investigation by a special counsel, sources told CBS News.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel authorized the complaint Jan. 8, according to Michigan Live.
Snyder is the first Michigan governor or former governor to be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Earlier this week, as reports began to surface that charges were looming, Snyder's attorney referred to them as "a politically motivated smear campaign," according to the Detroit Free Press.
“As we said yesterday, we believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Governor Snyder. We have asked the Michigan Attorney General’s Office of Special Counsel for a copy of or at least confirmation of the charges ahead of tomorrow’s arraignment, and she has not yet provided us with either," Snyder's lawyer, Brian Lennon, said Wednesday, WXYZ reported. “It is difficult for us to comment on something we have not yet seen.”
Others who may face charges in connection to the water crisis include Richard Baird, top aide to Snyder during his administration; Nick Lyon, the former Health and Human Services director under Snyder, and How Croft, the head of Public Works Department from 2011 to November 2015, Michigan Live reported.
Snyder’s next court hearing is Jan. 19, ClickonDetroit reported.
"These are the first steps in the final process to securing justice for our community," Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said of the news on Tuesday. "I commend Attorney General Dana Nessel and her team for their commitment to finding the truth and fully investigating all possible criminal activity.”