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Charges dismissed against former Michigan governor over Flint water crisis

Rick Snyder, a Republican who left office in 2019, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty. He was the first person in Michigan's history to be charged for alleged crimes related to service as governor.

Lawyers for Rick Snyder argued that criminal charges were the result of 'political persecution'

Then Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder speaks to the media regarding the status of the Flint water crisis on Jan. 27, 2016, at Flint City Hall. A judge on Friday dismissed charges against him relating to the crisis. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

A judge dismissed criminal charges against former Michigan governor Rick Snyder in the Flint water crisis, months after the state Supreme Court said indictments returned by a one-person grand jury were invalid.

Snyder, a Republican who left office in 2019, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty. He was the first person in state history to be charged for alleged crimes related to service as governor.

Snyder also is the eighth person to have a Flint water case thrown out after the Supreme Court's unanimous June opinion.

Genesee County Judge F. Kay Behm signed the order Wednesday, a day after the U.S. Senate approved her nomination to become a federal judge in eastern Michigan.

"The charges against [Snyder] were not properly brought and must be dismissed at this time," Behm wrote.

Only one case remains pending in the water scandal, which not only exposed children to toxic lead but was blamed for nine deaths linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. Activists who believe crimes were committed are frustrated that no one has been locked up.

The Michigan attorney general's office has desperately tried to keep the cases alive but so far has lost at every turn. Prosecutors have argued that the indictments could simply be turned into common criminal complaints in district court, but Behm and another judge have rejected that approach.

Result of systemic racism, according to civil rights commission

Flint's water became tainted with lead after city managers appointed by Snyder began using the Flint River in 2014 to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was built. The water wasn't treated to reduce its corrosive qualities, causing lead to break off from old pipes and contaminate the system for more than a year.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission said it was the result of systemic racism, doubting that the water switch and the brush-off of complaints in the majority-Black city would have occurred in a white, prosperous community.

Flint residents complained about the water's smell, taste and appearance, raising health concerns and reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems. Snyder didn't acknowledge that lead was a problem until 17 months after the water switch, in fall 2015, when he pledged to take action.

Snyder acknowledged that the state government had botched the water switch, especially regulators who didn't require certain treatments. But his lawyers argued that criminal charges were the result of "political persecution" by the attorney general's office.

Michigan prosecutors typically file charges in a district court after a police investigation. A one-judge grand jury was rare and had mostly been used in Detroit and Flint to protect witnesses who could testify in private about violent crimes.

The Flint water plant tower is shown in Flint, Mich., on Jan. 13, 2021. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

State prosecutors, however, chose that path in the Flint water saga to hear evidence in secret and get indictments against Snyder and others.

But the state Supreme Court unanimously said a one-judge grand jury can't issue indictments. The process apparently had never been challenged.

Judge Elizabeth Kelly in October dismissed felony charges against seven people, including two senior health officials from Snyder's administration, Nick Lyon and Eden Wells, who had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in nine Legionnaires' deaths.

A former Flint public works official, Howard Croft, still has misdemeanors pending with a different judge.

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