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Former Michigan Governor Charged In Flint Water Crisis, Along With 8 Others

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today we learned that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is one of nine defendants facing criminal charges related to the Flint water crisis. Snyder faces two misdemeanor counts of neglect of duty by a public official. Others face more serious charges, including felony misconduct and perjury. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: The arraignments were carried out over Zoom. Snyder appeared alongside his attorney and uttered just a single brief sentence and answer to a question from the judge.

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UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: You're living in the state of Michigan right now, is that correct?

RICK SNYDER: Yes, Your Honor.

PLUTA: Snyder is a Republican who served from 2011 to 2019, a millionaire investor and retired computer tech executive. He promised to bring a more businesslike approach to state government. In the case of Flint, that appears to be what got him into trouble. Snyder appointed a team to try to rescue the city of Flint from bankruptcy.

One of those money saving decisions was made in 2014- disconnect Flint from the Detroit water system and draw water instead from the Flint River. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but it had long term, disastrous results. The untreated water caused lead to leach from old pipes and contaminate the water supply used by nearly 100,000 people. That action seven years ago led today to these arraignments of Snyder, an emergency manager and other former public officials. While others face more serious charges, Rick Snyder is the marquee defendant.

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FADWA HAMMOUD: Let me be clear. There are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system.

PLUTA: Michigan's solicitor general, Fadwa Hammoud, led the state's Flint water investigation.

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HAMMOUD: Nobody, no matter how powerful or well-connected, is above accountability when they commit a crime.

PLUTA: The charges were handed up by a grand jury that met in secret. The evidence presented to the grand jury has not yet been made public. But Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who helped with the investigation, says the evidence will show this was more than a bureaucratic blunder.

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KYM WORTHY: This goes far beyond leading a large organization and someone in an organization makes a mistake or failed to supervise.

PLUTA: Even so, that may be difficult for prosecutors to prove. Multiple legal experts say it's very hard to convict public officials for on-the-job failures. Arthur Weiss is a criminal defense attorney who's handled public corruption and misconduct cases, usually for police officers.

ARTHUR WEISS: I don't know what she has, so I can't comment on the sufficiency or adequacy of the evidence. I can just indicate that there are some hurdles there that they're going to have to overcome or they're not going to be successful.

PLUTA: Flint resident Montiez Edwards says he was afraid no one would be held responsible for what happened in his city.

MONTIEZ EDWARDS: They cut measures to make sure it was cheaper, but they just - they damaged the city by doing it. It made it hard on people to stay here.

PLUTA: In Flint, most of the pipes have been replaced, and the water system was long ago reconnected to Detroit's. A federal judge will decide soon whether to accept a civil settlement topping $600 million. But Flint, the city that Snyder and the other defendants tried to save, is still widely known as the city with lead-tainted water. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.