Almost six years after Michigan poisoned the water supply of Flint, Michigan, the governor at the time was charged on Wednesday with one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty, according to the Associated Press.
Snyder, who has been out of office for two years, was Michigan’s governor in 2014 when state-appointed officials switched the water supply for the majority-Black city to the Flint River in order to save costs while a pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. The state, however, failed to treat the water with corrosion inhibitors, which resulted in lead from old pipes leaching into the drinking water. (The charge announced on Wednesday relates to the initial decision to switch the water sources.) Between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to toxic levels of the contaminant, and one dozen people died from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that prosecutors connected to the crisis. State health officials ignored residents’ complaints that the water smelled bad and tasted off, and told them it was safe to drink; only in 2016 did Snyder declare a state of emergency to help secure clean water for the city’s residents.
On Tuesday, Snyder, his former health department director Nick Lyon, and former adviser Rich Baird were notified by the office of Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel that indictments were imminent. In 2019, when Nessel took over, her office dropped prior outstanding charges related to the crisis, and vowed to investigate further, claiming “all evidence was not pursued” by the prior Republican attorney general.
If convicted, Snyder could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. And as David Eggert of the Associated Press notes, this is the first time a Michigan governor or ex-governor has been charged with crimes related to their time in office since the state joined the union in 1837.