The absence of any elected Democrats among the officials indicted this month for their respective roles in the Flint water crisis has led to concerns that the charging decisions were motivated by political considerations.
Nine people, including former Michigan governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, were criminally charged in connection with the public health crisis in Flint, Mich., which wreaked havoc on the impoverished city from 2014 to 2019.
The crisis began after Flint changed its water source in April 2014 in order to save money, switching from treated water from the Detroit area to water from the Flint River.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, levels of lead, bacteria, and chlorination by-products rose in Flint’s drinking water, causing more than 100,000 residents to be exposed to the toxins, which seeped into the water from aging pipes. Doctors have since detected elevated lead levels in hundreds of children, and residents were forced to drink bottled or filtered water for months.
The most severe of the criminal charges were leveled against Nick Lyon, the former director of Michigan’s health department, who faces nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, each with a sentence of 15 years, over the deaths of nine people who developed Legionnaire’s disease, thought to have come from bacteria in the Flint water.
Snyder was charged with two counts of neglect of duty under the Michigan constitution, one count “by failing to inquire into the performance, condition and administration of the public offices and officers that he appointed and was required to supervise,” and another count he incurred “by failing to declare a state of emergency and/or disaster” in Flint after he was made aware of the water crisis. The charges are punishable by up to a year in jail.
The indictments came from a one-man grand jury, David Newblatt, a Genesee County family division judge elected in 2005 to the 7th Circuit Court. Newblatt was appointed by chief judge Duncan Beagle last year at the petition of the Flint prosecution.
Jim Haveman, who directed the state’s health department before Lyon, said he believes those charged are victims of a political prosecution seeking to criminalize well-intentioned public officials who simply miscalculated.
Meanwhile, Democrats who were heavily criticized for their role in responding to the crisis have escaped charges. No one at either the Environmental Protection Agency or the health department in Genesee County, where Flint is located, was charged. Emails between Genesee County health officials and the Michigan health department…