Six years on, as frustration and fury over the Flint Water Crisis continue to grow, the criminal cases against the perpetrators of the mass poisoning of an American city march slowly on.
FLINT, MI — It was a simple and small act one Friday in 2014 that dramatically changed a community. With the push of a button, the Flint Water Crisis began. The six-year anniversary of that button press went largely unnoticed, overshadowed by a different, devastating crisis gripping the city.
One hard-to-ignore headline marking that grim anniversary came from the Metro Times, which reported on audio the outlet obtained that implicated former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was aware of criminal activities taken in the wake of the crisis, and knew before that button was pressed what the outcome could’ve been.
Snyder’s handling of the crisis has been charitably seen as ineffective and, the Times argues, is perhaps more accurately described as a conspiracy to cover up reckless disregard for Michigan lives.
However, the reported audio had been turned over to criminal prosecutors as part of their investigation into the Snyder Administration’s handling of the crisis. Publishing that report has had a serious detrimental impact on those prosecutions.
“The Flint Water prosecution team has grave concerns about the unauthorized disclosure of Investigative Subpoena transcripts related to the Flint Water Crisis,” Courtney Covington, a spokesperson from the Attorney General’s office, told The ‘Gander. “Investigative Subpoenas are, by statute, confidential, and their release without a court order is a violation of the law (MCL 767A.8). Such conduct obstructs the investigation that the people of Flint are entitled to, and threatens to jeopardize our pursuit of justice.”
The Times report focused on top Snyder advisor Rich Baird. The recording, which prosecutors have had since 2019, featured Baird and associates meeting with Flint resident Adam Murphy who grabbed headlines for his outburst at a town hall where he disclosed the illnesses Flint water caused him. The Times has characterized the two-hour meeting as a payoff attempt.
Editor’s Note: In the interest of not inadvertently undermining the ongoing investigation, The ‘Gander is not directly quoting the transcript of that recording in this article.
That wasn’t the only issue the Solicitor General’s investigation had with the Metro Times reporting. Though the Times said their bombshell report came two days before the statute of limitations expired on the potential charges related to any criminal activity their reporting implied. That argument was one of a few reasons the office of the Solicitor General, the office overseeing criminal investigations into the Flint Water Crisis, took issue with the report.
“[W]e want to correct the misconception that April 25, 2020 is the deadline to bring charges against those who may be criminally liable,” Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said in a statement. “Criminal statutes of limitations vary depending on the offense and the date of the alleged criminal act. Though we cannot comment on the specifics of our investigation, we remain on track, and we are delivering on our commitment to the people of Flint.”
The case against the Snyder investigation has not been exclusively ill-served by reportes, though. A year-long investigation from VICE alleges that Gov. Snyder was aware of the potential consequences of switching to the water in the Flint River before it happened and the massive conspiracy engaged in by his administration to cover it up. VICE further reported that Snyder would have been called back before Congress had Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) not died in 2019.
Covington also wanted to clear up some other misinformation about the cases. Foremost, that Attorney General Dana Nessel is not overseeing the Flint criminal cases. Those cases are firmly under the oversight of Solicitor General Hammoud. Nessel is overseeing the civil cases related to Flint.
She also noted that Hammoud has been in communication with the people of Flint, citing community events in June and December of 2019 keeping the community in the loop about the criminal legal efforts.
“The people of Flint deserve an unimpeded investigation.” said Covington. “We hope the press and public will continue to honor our shared responsibility to safeguard the investigation from those who seek to further their personal agendas.”
As for the people of Flint, the kind of mismanagement and absentee leadership they endured during the Flint Water Crisis was good preparation for the nation’s response to the pandemic coronavirus. Writing for The ‘Gander, Flint activist Nakiya Wakes compared the crises.