US Ex-Governor among 9 Charged in Water Poisoning Scandal

U.S. Prosecutor have charged a former governor and eight other former and current officials with a total of 42 charges ranging from misconduct in office to involuntarily manslaughter related to the massive public poisoning and deadly Legionnaires outbreak in Flint, Michigan, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.

Flint MichiganFlint, Michigan, had a public health crisis from 2014 to 2019, after the drinking water was contaminated with lead and Legionnaires' disease. (Photo: Wikimedia, public domain)Michigan officials in 2014 changed the city’s water supply source from Lake Huron to the poorly treated and corrosive Flint River. Water filled with lead and Legionella bacteria reached thousands of homes in Flint and residents began reporting the water’s discoloration, foul odor and skin rashes.

While the situation quickly deteriorated into a public health crisis, officials failed to act, ignoring complaints from citizens, evidence of toxic levels of lead, an unprecedented number of cases of Legionnaires disease and calls to switch the water supply back to Lake Huron.

Among the accused for the crisis that left twelve or more dead is former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who has been indicted with two counts of willful neglect of duty - misdemeanors that carry a punishment of up to one year in prison and a US$1,000 fine each.

One current and seven former officials are facing different accusations that include perjury, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, extortion, willful neglect of duty and involuntary manslaughter. Depending on the individual charges, they could end up in prison for one or 20 years.

“In America, a rich white man can poison 100,000 people and only get charged with a misdemeanor and fined one cent per poisoned person,” Melissa Mays, Flint resident and activist said on Twitter about the former governor.

Mays’ words reflect a broader outrage over what seems like a slap on the wrist for a public official who many believe lied about his involvement in the poisoning and deaths of his constituents.

Snyder testified before Congress in March of 2016 that he didn’t know about the deadly Legionnaires disease outbreak until January 2016 - a claim disputed by one of his aides who said that Snyder knew as early as December of 2015. Governor Snyder declared a state of emergency more than 20 months after the beginning of the Flint Water Crisis.

Seven years later, Flint is still replacing it’s water pipes while the battle for justice and accountability has made slow progress. In 2019 the Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel dismissed cases brought by an appointed Office of Special Counsel, an investigation she called “an unnecessary cost to taxpayers”, according to a statement released Thursday.

Nessel lead the civil litigation which reached a controversial proposed settlement in the amount of US$641 million at the end of last year. Those impacted by the crisis spoke out against the deal, saying that the amount doesn’t provide enough compensation to those who suffered through years of contaminated water, as reported by Michigan Radio. Community leaders  criticized barriers to compensation that may lead to residents getting less than their fair share.

Even after approval, Flint residents wont get any money until after an additional public hearing and an appeal period, according to a November statement from the Attorney General.

“We must remember that the Flint Water Crisis is not some relic of the past. At 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,” said Solicitor General Fadwa Hammound.