Flint water crisis: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder arraigned on misdemeanor charges

Snyder pleads not guilty to 2 counts of willful neglect of duty

Rick Snyder, former Michigan governor, at his arraignment Jan. 14, 2021.
Rick Snyder, former Michigan governor, at his arraignment Jan. 14, 2021. (WDIV)

Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder was arraigned on misdemeanor charges Thursday in connection with the Flint water crisis.

Snyder is charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty. He was arraigned on those charges Thursday morning. He pleaded not guilty to both charges. He received a $10,000 personal bond for both counts. He is not allowed to leave the state of Michigan.

His next court hearing is Jan. 19.

The Michigan Legislature defines willful neglect of duty as follows:

“When any duty is or shall be enjoined by law upon any public officer, or upon any person holding any public trust or employment, every willful neglect to perform such duty, where no special provision shall have been made for the punishment of such delinquency, constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.”

Evidence against Snyder

Local 4′s Hank Winchester did some digging into what may be ahead for Snyder. The evidence reportedly includes potential email evidence of Snyder allegedly being warned about the danger a year before the city moved from using water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water from the Flint River, and a Legionnaire’s disease cover-up.

Brian Lennon, Snyder’s attorney, said criminal prosecution would be “outrageous.”

“It is outrageous to think any criminal charges would be filed against Gov. Snyder,” Lennon said. “Any charges would be meritless. Coming from an administration that claims to be above partisan politics, it is deeply disappointing to see pure political motivation driving charging decisions.”

Read more: A look at the evidence collected against Gov. Snyder in the Flint water crisis

Lennon released a longer statement Thursday morning:

“The two misdemeanor charges filed today against former Gov. Rick Snyder are wholly without merit and this entire situation is puzzling.

Today’s scheduled press conference by the Office of Special Counsel to announce criminal charges shows they prefer to prosecute in the court of public opinion rather than in a court of law.

Even after news of the charges was first leaked to the press, the Office of Special Counsel refused to provide former Gov. Snyder with a copy of or at least confirmation of the charges against him before today’s arraignment.

It would be a travesty to waste additional taxpayer dollars pursuing these bogus misdemeanor charges. We are confident Gov. Snyder will be fully exonerated if this flimsy case goes to trial.

Today’s charges do nothing to bring justice to the people of Flint. These unjustified allegations do nothing to resolve a painful chapter in the history of our state. Today’s actions merely perpetrate an outrageous political persecution.”

Attorney Brian Lennon

Besides Snyder, a Republican who served until 2019, charges are expected against other people, including former officials who served as state health director, Michigan’s chief medical executive, Snyder’s communications chief and a senior adviser.

Read: Ex-Michigan health chief charged with manslaughter in Flint water probe

Flint water crisis

Flint was in financial trouble in 2014 when a Snyder-appointed manager who was running the city carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a regional pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction. The corrosive water, however, wasn’t treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes in one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Despite pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

“I’m sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder promised during his 2016 State of the State speech.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. Some experts found there wasn’t enough chlorine in the water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

In August 2020, a settlement of a lawsuit filed was reached on behalf of residents of Flint who were harmed by lead-tainted water. As of November it totaled about $641 million.


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About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.