Court Ends Flint Water Scandal Prosecution
The Michigan Attorney General's Office stated at the end of last month that the prosecution of former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other officials involved in the Flint water scandal had officially ended.
According to a report from NPR, the decision was made after the state Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from a lower court's dismissal of misdemeanor charges against Snyder.
History of the Water Crisis
Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April 2014, when the city chose to switch its water source from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River as an interim solution while a pipeline to carry water from Lake Huron to the communities while the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority was being built.
The Michigan attorney general’s office officially is ending its pursuit of criminal prosecutions over the Flint water crisis after seven years of no convictions— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) October 31, 2023
The Flint prosecution team says the cases are now “closed”https://t.co/tsZ6arB9I6 pic.twitter.com/hwMX4k0ybL
Water from the Flint River was not treated with corrosion-control agents, and reportedly began to corrode the city’s aging pipes. Drinking water in many homes was contaminated with lead, leading to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, and causing a public health crisis.
By January 2016, the National Guard and state police started delivering bottles of water door-to-door. By this point, the crisis was estimated to cost more than $1.5 billion to fix, and already had reports of 43 people having found elevated levels of lead in their blood.
In September, a $9 billion water infrastructure bill was passed in the U.S. Senate, with hundreds of millions allocated for improvements in Flint, as well as other cities with potential drinking-water contamination hazards. When broken down, the bill allocated $4.5 billion for 29 Army Corps of Engineers projects and $4.8 billion for work on water infrastructure nationwide.
By March 2017, Flint’s former mayor Karen Weaver wrote a letter to the EPA indicating that it would take a few more years for the city to be up and running with its on-water treatment facility, a goal set for August 2019. The letter had been a response to the state announcing that at the end of January and beginning in March, they would no longer provide subsides for Flint residents to help pay their water bills, after recent testing showed that lead levels were returned to federal standards.
Roughly three years later, in December 2020, state officials announced that through a total of $120 million in federal and state funding, more than 9,700 lead service lines were replaced in Flint, with less than 500 service lines remaining to be checked.
Through an internal investigation that concluded in October 2016, the EPA was reported to not have acted fast enough in its efforts to warn the residents of Flint about the lead contamination in its drinking water.
Former EPA inspector general Arthur Elkins said that EPA Region 5, which included Michigan and other states in the Upper Midwest, “had the authority and sufficient information” to issue an emergency order in the Flint contamination matter as early as June 2015. However, the agency’s emergency order wasn’t issued until January 2016.
In August, another testimony was released by EPA official Miguel Del Toral, who blew the whistle on the lead-contamination crisis, stating that he told Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulators in February 2015 that without anticorrosive treatment, the city’s drinking water would present a public-health threat.
The testimony that the federal agency brought up the lead issue more than six months before the state acknowledged the problem publicly came during a preliminary hearing for four former state officials facing felony charges related to the crisis.
A total of 13 state and local officials have faced charges that they ignored warnings and covered up potential contamination. Prosecutors have also alleged that local officials knew the water treatment plant that was being brought online to treat Flint’s water was insufficient, but that they went forward with the plan anyway.
At the beginning of 2021, it was confirmed that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, along with his health director and other ex-officials from his administration, were expected to face charges for their roles in the Flint water crisis.
In March, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that a judge had granted final approval in a $600 million settlement regarding the water crisis in Flint.
The final judgement was granted by Genesee County Circuit Court Chief Judge David J. Newblatt on March 21, following an opinion issued on March 17 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan’s approval of the settlement.
According to the release, the State of Michigan would pay $600 million, along with $20 million from the City of Flint, through their insurer; $5 million from McLaren Regional Medical Center; and $1.25 million from Rowe Professional Services Co. It would be the largest civil settlement in Michigan state history.
The preliminary agreement funding would reportedly be broken down as follows:
The ruling followed a preliminary approval and three-day fairness hearing in 2021, which established the process through which Flint residents could indicate their intention to file eligible settlement claims that will be processed and paid by the claims administrator.
Also, in August, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced that the City of Flint had met requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act for seven years straight.
The department added that its Lead and Copper Rule monitoring showed the 90th percentile for lead to be 8 parts per billion, meaning 90% of the test results used in the calculation came in at or below 8 ppb.
The latest testing result was reportedly lower than the previous 6-month period result of 9 ppb for lead and remains below the federal action level of 15 ppb.
In September, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected an effort by prosecutors to revive criminal charges. The attorney general's office reportedly utilized a one-judge grand jury to hear evidence and return indictments against nine people, including Snyder.
According to a release from the prosecuton, the denial is based on a 2022 ruling for the People v. Peeler, which reportedly upended a century of precedent upholding the use of one-man grand juries.
The Supreme Court reportedly stated that it is “not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court,” the same as the reasoning provided by the Courts in each denial.
However, the reports state that last year the Supreme Court said that the process was unconstitutional, causing the charges to be dropped and written off as invalid.
Prosecutors stated that the decision has effectively ended the "criminal prosecutions of the government officials." They added that at that time, the court had left them “with no option but to consider the Flint water prosecutions closed.”
Snyder had reportedly been charged with willful neglect of duty, though this was also dismissed. The report adds that the Supreme Court did not address an appeal by prosecutors in September since that case was on a different timetable.
Snyder's attorney Brian Lennon stated that Snyder and his family are "encouraged by what appears to be a declaration by Attorney General Dana Nessel of the end of this political persecution of public officials."
Personnel hired by Snyder had reportedly turned the Flint River into a source for drinking water in 2014, though the water wasn't treated to reduce its corrosive impact on old pipes.
Snyder had reportedly acknowledged that the state had messed up the water switch, specifically regulators who failed to require certain treatments. Snyder’s lawyers, however, reportedly deny his conduct rose to the level of a crime.
"Our disappointment in the Michigan Supreme Court is exceeded only by our sorrow for the people of Flint," the prosecution said, adding that it expects a release "a full and thorough report" detailing its efforts and decisions next year.