Justice Delayed, Not Denied, As Ex Michigan Gov Indicted For Poisoning The Children Of Flint
It's been one hell of a crazy month — there was an attempted coup, a new president, a creepy movie star with a cannibalism fetish — and that sometimes means that we miss out on things. Like, for instance, the fact that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight other officials were indicted on charges related to their roles in the Flint water crisis. That's nice, huh? Because it sure would be good if they were, you know, held accountable for all the lead poisoning and Legionnaire's disease that happened as a direct result of their actions/inactions.
This is not the first time that charges have been filed against those whose actions led to the Flint water crisis — in 2016, a special prosecutor chosen by Snyder's attorney general executed an investigation and ended up charging 15 officials with crimes related to the crisis. However, when Gretchen Whitmer became governor, she decided that the investigation didn't go far enough and started fresh with her own team.
A Quick Refresher!
Back when Rick Snyder was elected governor of Michigan, he decided that he was not super into all these other areas of the state being able to control their own local governments — so he signed legislation allowing himself to appoint "emergency managers" to step in and seize control of cities and towns that elected people he didn't like — most of which were cities primarily populated by people of color. Flint was one of the cities that Snyder decided needed an "emergency manager." In order to save money in 2013, the City Council, under the Snyder-appointed emergency manager at the time, Michael Brown, decided to switch from using water from Lake Huron to using water from the Flint River.
It did not work out well! The water was brown and gross and — scientists would later discover — full of lead and Legionnaire's disease. By 2015, the people of Flint said "Hey! You know what? We really do not want this water!" and their City Council voted to switch its water source back to Lake Huron.
However, the emergency manager at that time, Jerry Ambrose, said no and called it "incomprehensible" that they would vote to make such a switch, because of how the water was totally fine and everyone was just overreacting.
Ambrose is one of those currently being indicted.
As it turns out, no one was overreacting! The Flint River water started messing with everyone's pipes. The water had lead in it. The water had Legionnaire's in it. It was very, very bad water. And the Michigan government kept trying to cover up the fact that it was very bad water, telling scientists to shut their faces, insisting that everything was fine despite the fact that everything was very obviously not fine. Now, all of those people are going to have to live with the effects of that water for the rest of their lives. They will also have to pay for it, because they will likely need a lot of health care and we live in the only developed country in the world where the government can poison you and then make you pay for the privilege! America!
Now, nine of the people involved with that are being indicted.
How's That Going?
Former Gov. Snyder so far has only been charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty — both of which carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1000 fine. That seems like not a whole lot given the fact that thousands of people, thousands of children, are going to have to live with the effects of his bullshit for the rest of their lives. Lead poisoning causes brain damage and all kinds of other problems, particularly when consumed by children.
However! Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud says that there may be more charges for Snyder in the near future. In the meantime, he is pleading not guilty and his lawyer, Brian Lennon, has said the charges are "wholly without merit and this entire situation is puzzling."
Puzzling! Imagine being puzzled by this!
Lennon has also asked that all charges against Snyder be dropped because he says they were filed in the wrong county.
Who else is being charged? Snyder's top aide, Rich Baird, along with Ambrose and several others who contributed to this crisis being ignored and exacerbated.
The former governor's closest aide, Rich Baird, was charged with four felonies: misconduct in office, perjury, obstruction of justice for attempting to influence the legal proceedings around the crisis, and extortion for "threatening" a state-appointed research team investigating the Flint water crisis — an incident that was first documented by FRONTLINE in Flint's Deadly Water. [...]
Among the others indicted on Thursday were Snyder's chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, for perjury; Nancy Peeler, a state children's health official accused of concealing, and later misrepresenting, data on blood-lead levels in Flint's children; Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, both state-appointed emergency managers in Flint charged with misconduct in office; and Howard Croft, Flint's director of public works at the time, who faces misdemeanors for failing to protect the safety and quality of the water supply. He was the lone city official indicted in the case. [...]
The two officials at the center of the prosecution, Nick Lyon, the former head of the state health department, and Dr. Eden Wells, the former state chief medical executive, could face 15-year prison sentences for each of nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both were also charged with willful neglect of duty. Wells faces an additional felony count of misconduct in office for attempting to prevent the distribution of information about Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County.
They are all, predictably, pleading not guilty. And that's how it's going so far!
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse