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November 2, 2023 11:34 pm

Impunity reigns: prosecution dropped in Flint Water Crisis case following SC ruling

By Staff Writer

Michigan prosecutors have ended the case against former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight others accused of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis. This comes after Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday (October 31) reaffirmed its December last year decision that a one-man grand jury, which the prosecutors had used to secure the indictments, was invalid. The decision was the latest setback in a seven-year prosecution effort that spanned the tenures of two attorneys general. 

According to the New York Times, in a statement issued, the prosecutors have stated, “If a jury decided that the defendants were not guilty of the charged offenses, so be it. To deny the opportunity to present the evidence and to let the victims tell their story is truly heartbreaking.”

The Flint water crisis began when state-appointed leaders decided to draw drinking water from the Flint River to save money, leading to a cascade of failures. Local officials neglected to implement corrosion controls, causing lead to leach from the pipes. Health officials assured residents that the water was safe, but children were drinking dangerous amounts of lead and a number of people died in a Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to the new water source.

The World Socialist Web Site characterized the Flint water crisis as a “massive social crime”, “which resulted in at least 100 deaths, countless miscarriages, emotional and mental developmental problems in tens of thousands of children and countless lifelong illnesses. In addition, many Flint families remain in financial distress from plummeting home values and loss of income due to chronic health problems.”

Many residents demanded criminal penalties for leaders who failed them. Prosecutors appointed by the previous attorney general, a Republican, announced a wave of charges in 2016, which prompted a few officials to take plea deals. After Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, took office in 2019, she disbanded the prosecution team and appointed her own, which dismissed the remaining cases. The prosecutors filed a new set of charges, including willful neglect of duty charges against Snyder, who denied criminal wrongdoing. 

Flint residents protest unsafe water.. Image courtesy WSWS

This setback was a sequel of  the Michigan Supreme Court finding.

In January 2021, misdemeanor charges were filed against Snyder and other officials in connection with the Flint water crisis. This came seven years after the water catastrophe began, which saw the heavily working class and low-income city of Flint switch its water supply to the toxic Flint River, resulting in the lead poisoning of tens of thousands of residents.

The slow pace of the case drew comparisons to Charles Dickens’ novel “Bleak House,” known for its portrayal of interminable legal proceedings, which recounts the case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The case of Snyder and the other defendants has been marked by a lack of accountability, with no public figure or elected official being held responsible for the switch in water supply.

Michigan Circuit Court Judge F. Kay Behm, a Democratic appointee, ruled on the dismissal of Snyder’s charges. Her decision upheld a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court that the use of a one-judge grand jury to issue the indictments against Snyder and other officials was unconstitutional. This legal procedure was deemed unusual.

The dropping of charges just before last Christmas was another disappointment for the residents of Flint, who feel that those responsible for the crisis will not be held accountable. Many believed that the court cases were merely a show to give the illusion of justice, while the real culprits go free.

Evidence published in early 2016 by media outlets revealed that Snyder was informed of the toxicity of the Flint water supply within six months of the switch, contradicting his claims of ignorance. Snyder served two terms as Michigan governor from 2011 to 2019, during which he implemented corporate tax cuts and appointed emergency managers to run Flint.

Despite promises to hold those responsible accountable, Governor Gretchen Whitmer presided over the dropping of all criminal cases related to the water crisis. This raised suspicions that there is a desire to maintain secrecy and protect politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, as well as corporate players from prosecution or liability.

The Flint River water was so corrosive that it leached lead from service pipe lines, poisoning the water supply of Flint residents. A study in 2015 found that Flint children were being poisoned by the lead. The media coverage of the crisis attempted to divert attention by framing it as a racial issue, despite the protests being organized by residents of all backgrounds.

Flint, once a center of General Motors production and the site of a historic sit-down strike that sparked the establishment of mass industrial unions in the US, has suffered not only from the health impact of the crisis but also from the collapse of home values in the city. Despite this, Snyder was only charged with two misdemeanors for willful neglect and pleaded not guilty.

The lack of justice and accountability in the Flint water crisis has left residents feeling betrayed. The $626 million settlement reached has yet to benefit any residents, while lawyers have profited from the legal proceedings. 

It is only a collective effort from the working people that will bring those responsible to justice.

[Featured image: Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on January 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)]

Further Reading:

Cases closed on Flint water crisis criminal prosecutions without any convictions

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