In 2014, the City of Flint, responding to financial crisis and under the leadership of an Emergency Financial Manager appointed to replace the city’s elected government by Governor Rick Snyder (R), flipped the switch to stop water from Detroit and switch residents over to Flint River water. Residents were assured they’d never notice a difference.
The government officials involved in that decision, including Gov. Snyder, were dismissed from legal challenges about the difference that everyone in America quickly noticed.
U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy said that the State of Michigan cannot be held accountable for the poisoning of its citizens because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In order to be sued, the State of Michigan would have to be willing to be sued. As for its leader, Levy found that there wasn’t enough evidence to show Snyder’s knowledge of the toxic nature of Flint water.
“Plaintiffs have alleged that other defendants involved in the top-level decisions surrounding the switch to the Flint River knew of and disregarded risks to the health and safety of Flint’s water users. But they have not made those same allegations with regard to Governor Snyder,” said Levy.
But Bill Schuette — Michigan’s probable Republican nominee for Governor and current Attorney General — has largely shielded Snyder from investigation.
Levy also dismissed claims related to state-created danger, civil rights violations, fraud, negligence and gross negligence. Levy was appointed by Barack Obama in the months leading up to the Flint Water Crisis.
Some government officials are still being charged, however. These include former State Treasurer Andy Dillon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bradley Wurfel, and former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose.
There are benefits to narrowing the case, according to co-lead counsel Michael Pitt, whose clients are looking to set up a “Flint Victims Compensation Fund” for 100,000 Flint residents.
“With this ruling, the pace of the case will pick up dramatically so that there will be no further delays in getting our clients the justice to which they are entitled,” he said.
Officially 90 people were sickened and twelve died from Flint’s toxic water. But Frontline argued as many as 119 deaths can potentially be linked to the bacteria in the water, and as for the lead, the full scope of the damage to the community could take decades to truly understand.
But even if the evidence against Snyder does not meet Levy’s standards of legal culpability, he is certainly to blame.
“The governor had adequate legal authority to intervene by demanding more information from agency directors, reorganizing agencies to assure availability of appropriate expertise where needed, ordering state agencies to respond, or ultimately firing ineffective agency heads,” argued a report by the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “But he abjured, either due to ignorance or willful neglect of duty.”
The University of Michigan has a campus in Flint.
At least for the moment, though, Rick Snyder is likely to leave office never facing charges for the negligent homicides and mass poisoning that were carried out by his government.
“Gov. Snyder’s negligence led to the worst man-made disaster in our state’s history,” said State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint. “The fact that he is shielded from being held accountable is another crime in and of itself.”
A timeline of the crisis can be seen here, courtesy of CNN.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.