On Thursday, Jan. 14, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced they would be charging former Michigan governor Rick Snyder for his role in the Flint water crisis.
Along with Snyder, seven former officials and one current Michigan official are also being charged for their roles in the crisis. Together, they’re all facing 42 counts, ranging from perjury to misconduct in office to involuntary manslaughter.
Former Republican Gov. Snyder is facing two counts of willful neglect, both of which are misdemeanors which will lead to a maximum of one year in prison and a fine up to $1000. This is the first time in Michigan’s history that a current or former governor is facing charges for alleged misconduct while they are in office.
According to NPR, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the investigation included pouring over “literally millions and millions of documents and several electronic devices.”
“Our work on this case begins with the understanding that the impact of the Flint water crisis cases and what happened in Flint will span generations and probably well beyond,” said Worthy.
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city switched its water supply. Almost immediately, the residents began complaining about the quality of the water, but city and state officials denied for months that there was a serious problem. By then, the supply pipes had gone through major coercion and lead was making its way into the water of Flint, a city where about 40 percent of residents live in poverty.
Finally, after preliminary testing revealed “dangerous” amounts of lead in the water, and an increase in lead levels being found in the children of Flint, the city reverted back to the old water supply. Unfortunately, the damage made to the pipes was irreversible. In Jan 2016, then Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency in Genesee County, and shortly after then President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
But the damage had been done. It was estimated that 6,000-12,000 children in Flint were exposed to lead, and the whole crisis left 12 dead and over 80 sick with Legionnaires Disease.
Snyder’s attorney referred to the charges to the Detroit Free Press as “a politically motivated smear campaign”. The Detroit Free Press also reported that Snyder entered a not guilty plea that same Thursday from a Genessee County jail booth, appearing with his attorney over Zoom.
When asked about their thoughts on the charges, students at Alma College had many strong feelings.
“The Flint water crisis is still a relevant issue that this city is facing, as many people in the community were impacted,” said Maria Vostrizansky (‘24). “Even though this event took place seven years ago and was under a different administration, it doesn’t mean that those who neglected to take responsibility cannot still face the legal consequences.”
“The Flint water crisis was a tragic, easily avoidable time period caused directly by the actions of former Governor Snyder,” said Brenna Smith (‘24). “After contaminating a city with nearly 100,000 people, the punishment Snyder will only potentially be facing is laughable. Flint’s population is largely made up of people of color, many of whom already face difficulties due to housing, discrimination, poverty, and more. Snyder’s negligence was both intentional and destructive to a community struggling under the effects of systemic racism.”
On Jan 25, Snyder’s attorneys filed a formal request to dismiss the charges against him. According to the Michigan Attorney General’s office, the next court appearance for the other defendants is Feb 18.
“A $1000 fine and a year in prison is not nearly enough accountability for a man who effectively poisoned an entire city,” said Smith. “His meager punishment is a prominent display of white privilege. Snyder must have more accountability for the life-long effects his actions have caused for the people of Flint.”