Tag Archives: Mich

Flint water charges escalate debate over officials’ failures

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — When a former Michigan public health director was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Flint water crisis, the man who previously held the job says a chilling thought crossed his mind: It could have been me.

“I spent 14 years in that chair,” said Jim Haveman, who served under two Republican governors — including Rick Snyder, another target of indictments released Thursday. “I dealt with anthrax outbreaks, measles, hepatitis, Legionella. … The list is a mile long. We had to make tough decisions all the time.”

He contends Snyder, former health chief Nick Lyon and seven others charged with various counts in one of the worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history are victims of Monday-morning quarterbacking that makes criminals of government officials guilty of nothing worse than honest mistakes. Prosecutors, however, say this is no ordinary matter of well-meant decisions that backfired.

“Pure and simple, this case is about justice, truth, accountability, poisoned children, lost lives, shattered families that are still not whole, and simply giving a damn about all of humanity,” said Kym Worthy, a leader of the team that investigated a catastrophe that has been described as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

Few would dispute that a tangle of miscalculations, neglect and hubris led to pollution of the impoverished, majority-Black city’s drinking water with lead. Some experts believe it contributed to a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. But the charges have escalated a debate over whether state and local officials crossed a line between incompetence and illegality.

Those who support prosecution say conviction and punishment of those most responsible are essential steps toward making the victims whole — even after a $641 million civil settlement reached last year — and deterring similar misconduct.

To opponents, the charges are vengeful overreach that could do more harm than good, discouraging talented people from working in government and making those already there excessively cautious — just as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for boldness and creativity.

Underscoring the high stakes is the precedent-setting nature of the case.

Snyder is the first governor in Michigan’s 184-year history charged with crimes involving job performance. Ron Sullivan, a Harvard Law School professor, said he knew of no such cases in other states.

Governors have been accused of taking bribes, violating campaign finance laws and personal misconduct. Sullivan helped prosecute a former Missouri governor on an invasion-of-privacy charge involving a sex scandal. But the Michigan matter, he said, is “odd” and he thinks the bar for a conviction will be high.

Snyder, who held office from 2011 through 2018, faces two counts of willful neglect of duty. The indictment says only that he failed to monitor the “performance, condition and administration” of his appointees and protect Flint’s nearly 100,000 residents despite knowing the threat.

The Rev. Ezra L. Tillman Jr., pastor at First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, said it’s disappointing that Snyder was charged only with misdemeanors.

“It gives a mirage that … finally there is going to be some justice for all these kids’ lives that have been destroyed, all these elderly people whose lives have been destroyed,” said Tillman, whose church is a distribution site for residents who still need clean water. “It’s a joke.”

Yet even those charges will be hard to prove, Sullivan said. Prosecutors will have to show intentional wrongdoing, not just sloppy management.

“Negligence, even gross negligence, is not enough,” he said.

But Noah Hall, a Wayne State University environmental law professor who took part in a previous investigation of the case and saw evidence including emails between top officials, said: “These were not innocent mistakes.”

Flint was under the control of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River in 2014 to save money. Lead from aging pipes contaminated tap water because the city followed state regulators’ advice not to apply anti-corrosive treatments.

Despite residents’ complaints of rashes, hair loss and other ailments, Snyder’s administration waited 18 months to acknowledge a problem — after a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children.

Lyon and ex-chief medical executive Dr. Eden Wells are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2015 deaths of nine people with Legionnaires’. Authorities said they failed to alert the public about a regional spike in the disease when the water system might have lacked enough chlorine to combat bacteria.

Counts against others include perjury, obstruction of justice and extortion.

Lyon and Wells were among those charged in the previous investigation, which Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office disbanded in 2019. She appointed a new team that produced this week’s indictments.

During the initial Flint probe, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials — a nonprofit representing public health agencies — warned against “criminalizing our exercise of professional judgment.”

The community has a right to know about health threats, the group acknowledged in a court filing. But notifying the public too soon could lead to panic and rumors, it said, causing people to avoid places such as hospitals.

If the prosecution were successful, the group said, health officials “would face enormous pressure to shift their focus away from scientific analysis and toward reducing liability.”

Hall said such “slippery slope” arguments ignore the Flint situation’s uniqueness. Publicly available documents show Snyder administration officials appeared more concerned with “media responses and public relations” than “public health and carrying out their statutory duties,” he said.

Sullivan, the Harvard professor, agreed the case probably wouldn’t produce many imitators. Prosecuting a governor or other high-ranking officials for what amounts to poor job performance — even if intentional — is an “extraordinarily aggressive” approach, he said.

It’s rare for public officials, let alone industry, to be held accountable for environmental contamination that disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities, said Sarah Hughes, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan who studies urban environmental justice issues.

“It just kind of underscores how serious the crisis was,” said Hughes, adding that the charges are important to help heal a struggling city whose residents have been through so much.

“It was hard for me to imagine how the community was going to move forward, how they were going to be able to trust government again,” she said.

———

Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.


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Key moments in Flint, Michigan’s lead-tainted water crisis

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city began taking water from the Flint River without treating it properly, contaminating it with lead.

Here’s a look at some key moments since then:

___

April 2014: To save money, Flint begins drawing water from the Flint River for its 100,000 residents. The move is considered temporary while the city waits to connect to a new regional water system. Residents immediately complain about the water’s smell, taste and appearance, and they raise health concerns, reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems.

January 2015: Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water system, but Flint leaders insist the water is safe.

Sept. 24, 2015: A group of doctors urges Flint to stop using the Flint River after finding high levels of lead in children’s blood. State regulators insist the water is safe.

Sept. 29, 2015: Then-Gov. Rick Snyder pledges to take action in response to the lead levels — the first acknowledgment by the state that lead is a problem.

October 2015: Snyder announces the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools, and days later calls for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit’s system.

Dec. 29, 2015: Snyder accepts the resignation of Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologizes for what occurred in Flint.

Jan. 5, 2016: Snyder declares a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirm they are investigating. A week later, the Michigan National Guard begins helping to distribute bottled water and filters.

Jan. 14, 2016: Snyder, a Republican, asks the Obama administration for a major disaster declaration and more federal aid. The White House provides aid and an emergency declaration on Jan. 16, but not the disaster declaration.

Jan. 15, 2016: Then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette begins an “independent review.”

March 23, 2016: A governor-appointed panel concludes that the state of Michigan is “fundamentally accountable” for the crisis because of decisions made by environmental regulators.

April 20, 2016: Two state officials and a local official are charged with evidence tampering and other crimes in the state attorney general’s investigation — the first charges to come from the probe.

Aug. 14, 2016: The federal emergency declaration ends, but state officials say work continues to fix the drinking water system.

Dec. 10, 2016: Congress approves a wide-ranging bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Dec. 16, 2016: Congressional Republicans close a yearlong investigation, faulting both state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dec. 20, 2016: Schuette charges former emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose with multiple felonies for their failure to protect Flint residents from health hazards caused by contaminated water. He also charges Earley, Ambrose and two Flint city employees with felony counts of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses in the issuance of bonds to pay for part of the water project that led to the crisis.

Feb. 17, 2017: The Michigan Civil Rights Commission issues a report that finds “systemic racism” is at the core of problems that caused the water crisis in the majority Black city.

March 27, 2017: Water lines in Flint homes will be replaced under a landmark deal approved by a judge.

June 14, 2017: Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that some experts believe resulted from the poorly treated water. He and four others are charged with involuntary manslaughter. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator.

April 2018: Snyder ends Flint water distribution, saying the city’s tap water has improved.

July 19, 2018: A federal watchdog calls on the EPA to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water systems nationwide and to respond more quickly to public health emergencies like Flint’s. The EPA says it agrees with the inspector general’s recommendations and is adopting them “expeditiously.”

Jan. 7, 2019: Liane Shekter Smith, Michigan’s former drinking water regulator, pleads no contest to a misdemeanor — disturbance of a lawful meeting — in the Flint water investigation. Smith had been facing felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter.

April 16, 2019: Todd Flood, a special prosecutor who spent three years leading a criminal investigation of the Flint water scandal, is fired in the fallout from the discovery of 23 boxes of records in the basement of a state building.

June 13, 2019: Prosecutors drop all criminal charges against eight people in the Flint water scandal and pledge to start the investigation from scratch. Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who took control of the investigation in January 2019 after the election of a new attorney general, says “all available evidence was not pursued” by the previous team of prosecutors.

July 29, 2020: The Michigan Supreme Court says Flint residents whose health and homes were harmed can proceed with a lawsuit against officials for decisions that caused the scandal, a crucial procedural step in long-running litigation.

Aug. 20, 2020: A $600 million deal between the state and residents of Flint harmed by lead-tainted water is announced after more than two years of negotiations.

Jan. 13-14: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is charged with misdemeanors, and his health director and other ex-officials are charged with various misdemeanors and felonies after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal.


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Key moments in Flint, Michigan’s lead-tainted water crisis

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city began taking water from the Flint River without treating it properly, contaminating it with lead.

Here’s a look at some key moments since then:

___

April 2014: To save money, Flint begins drawing water from the Flint River for its 100,000 residents. The move is considered temporary while the city waits to connect to a new regional water system. Residents immediately complain about the water’s smell, taste and appearance, and they raise health concerns, reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems.

January 2015: Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water system, but Flint leaders insist the water is safe.

Sept. 24, 2015: A group of doctors urges Flint to stop using the Flint River after finding high levels of lead in children’s blood. State regulators insist the water is safe.

Sept. 29, 2015: Then-Gov. Rick Snyder pledges to take action in response to the lead levels — the first acknowledgment by the state that lead is a problem.

October 2015: Snyder announces the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools, and days later calls for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit’s system.

Dec. 29, 2015: Snyder accepts the resignation of Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologizes for what occurred in Flint.

Jan. 5, 2016: Snyder declares a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirm they are investigating. A week later, the Michigan National Guard begins helping to distribute bottled water and filters.

Jan. 14, 2016: Snyder, a Republican, asks the Obama administration for a major disaster declaration and more federal aid. The White House provides aid and an emergency declaration on Jan. 16, but not the disaster declaration.

Jan. 15, 2016: Then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette begins an “independent review.”

March 23, 2016: A governor-appointed panel concludes that the state of Michigan is “fundamentally accountable” for the crisis because of decisions made by environmental regulators.

April 20, 2016: Two state officials and a local official are charged with evidence tampering and other crimes in the state attorney general’s investigation — the first charges to come from the probe.

Aug. 14, 2016: The federal emergency declaration ends, but state officials say work continues to fix the drinking water system.

Dec. 10, 2016: Congress approves a wide-ranging bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Dec. 16, 2016: Congressional Republicans close a yearlong investigation, faulting both state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dec. 20, 2016: Schuette charges former emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose with multiple felonies for their failure to protect Flint residents from health hazards caused by contaminated water. He also charges Earley, Ambrose and two Flint city employees with felony counts of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses in the issuance of bonds to pay for part of the water project that led to the crisis.

Feb. 17, 2017: The Michigan Civil Rights Commission issues a report that finds “systemic racism” is at the core of problems that caused the water crisis in the majority Black city.

March 27, 2017: Water lines in Flint homes will be replaced under a landmark deal approved by a judge.

June 14, 2017: Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that some experts believe resulted from the poorly treated water. He and four others are charged with involuntary manslaughter. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator.

April 2018: Snyder ends Flint water distribution, saying the city’s tap water has improved.

July 19, 2018: A federal watchdog calls on the EPA to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water systems nationwide and to respond more quickly to public health emergencies like Flint’s. The EPA says it agrees with the inspector general’s recommendations and is adopting them “expeditiously.”

Jan. 7, 2019: Liane Shekter Smith, Michigan’s former drinking water regulator, pleads no contest to a misdemeanor — disturbance of a lawful meeting — in the Flint water investigation. Smith had been facing felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter.

April 16, 2019: Todd Flood, a special prosecutor who spent three years leading a criminal investigation of the Flint water scandal, is fired in the fallout from the discovery of 23 boxes of records in the basement of a state building.

June 13, 2019: Prosecutors drop all criminal charges against eight people in the Flint water scandal and pledge to start the investigation from scratch. Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who took control of the investigation in January 2019 after the election of a new attorney general, says “all available evidence was not pursued” by the previous team of prosecutors.

July 29, 2020: The Michigan Supreme Court says Flint residents whose health and homes were harmed can proceed with a lawsuit against officials for decisions that caused the scandal, a crucial procedural step in long-running litigation.

Aug. 20, 2020: A $600 million deal between the state and residents of Flint harmed by lead-tainted water is announced after more than two years of negotiations.

Jan. 13-14: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is charged with misdemeanors, and his health director and other ex-officials are charged with various misdemeanors and felonies after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal.


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Ex-Michigan governor faces 2 charges in Flint water scandal

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Two years after leaving office, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing charges of willful neglect of duty in the Flint water crisis as prosecutors revisit how the city’s water system was contaminated with lead during one of worst manmade environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Two misdemeanors popped up in an online court file Wednesday night after Attorney General Dana Nessel and her prosecutors announced a Thursday news conference to discuss their findings. Former officials who worked in Snyder’s administration are also expected to be charged and appear in court Thursday.

“We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder,” defense attorney Brian Lennon said, adding that prosecutors still hadn’t provided him with any details.

The charges against Snyder carry up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine upon conviction. No governor or former governor in Michigan’s 184-year history had been charged with crimes related to their time in that office, according to the state archivist.

Snyder, a Republican, was governor from 2011 through 2018. The former computer executive pitched himself as a problem-solving “nerd” who eschewed partisan politics and favored online dashboards to show performance in government. Flint turned out to be the worst chapter of his two terms due to a series of catastrophic decisions that will affect residents for years.

The date of Snyder’s alleged crimes in Flint is listed as April 25, 2014, when a Snyder-appointed emergency manager who was running the struggling, majority Black city carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.

The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes.

Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

“I’m sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder promised during his 2016 State of the State speech.

Authorities also counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. Some experts found there was not enough chlorine in Flint’s water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. The crisis was highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

The criminal investigation has lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. Todd Flood, who got misdemeanor convictions from seven people, was ousted in 2019 after the election of Nessel, a Democrat. Fadwa Hammoud subsequently dropped charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would start over. She said the first team had failed to collect all available evidence.

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis, with $600 million coming from Michigan. A judge said she hopes to decide by Jan. 21 whether to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are pending.

___

White reported from Detroit.


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Ex.-Michigan Gov. Snyder charged in Flint water crisis

By David Eggert and Ed White | Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged Wednesday with willful neglect of duty after an investigation of ruinous decisions that left Flint with lead-contaminated water and a regional outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

The charges, revealed in an online court record, are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The charges are groundbreaking: No governor or former governor in Michigan’s 184-year history had been charged with crimes related to their time in that office, according to the state archivist.

“We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Gov. Snyder,” defense attorney Brian Lennon said Wednesday night, adding that state prosecutors still hadn’t provided him with any details.

Lennon said Tuesday that a criminal case would be “outrageous.” Snyder and others were scheduled to appear in court Thursday, followed by a news conference by Attorney General Dana Nessel and prosecutors.

Besides Snyder, a Republican who was governor from 2011 through 2018, charges are expected against other people, including former officials who served as his state health director and as a senior adviser.

The alleged offense date is April 25, 2014, when a Snyder-appointed emergency manager who was running the struggling, majority Black city carried out a money-saving decision to use the Flint River for water while a regional pipeline from Lake Huron was under construction.

The corrosive water, however, was not treated properly and released lead from old plumbing into homes in one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Despite desperate pleas from residents holding jugs of discolored, skunky water, the Snyder administration took no significant action until a doctor reported elevated lead levels in children about 18 months later.

“I’m sorry and I will fix it,” Snyder promised during his 2016 State of the State speech.

Authorities counted at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. Some experts found there was not enough chlorine in the water-treatment system to control legionella bacteria, which can trigger a severe form of pneumonia when spread through misting and cooling systems.

The disaster made Flint a national symbol of government dereliction, with residents forced to line up for bottled water and parents fearing their children had suffered permanent harm. Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. The crisis was highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

More than 9,700 lead service lines at homes have been replaced. Flint’s water, which now comes from a Detroit regional agency, gets good marks, although many distrustful residents still use filters.

The criminal investigation has lasted five years under two teams of prosecutors. Todd Flood, who got misdemeanor convictions from seven people, was ousted in 2019 after the election of Nessel, a Democrat.

Fadwa Hammoud subsequently dropped charges in eight pending cases and said the investigation would start over. She said the first team had failed to collect all available evidence.

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis, with $600 million coming from Michigan. A judge said she hopes to decide by Jan. 21 whether to grant preliminary approval. Other lawsuits, including one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are pending.


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Author: The Associated Press

New Charges In Flint Water Crisis, Including Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

The Flint Water Plant tower in Flint, Mich., where drinking water became tainted after the city switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

Carlos Osorio/AP


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Carlos Osorio/AP

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis, an environmental disaster that contaminated the majority Black city’s drinking water with lead nearly seven years ago.

The charges were reported by the Associated Press. The wire service says Snyder is facing two counts of willful neglect of duty and if convicted he could face a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Other former members of his administration are expected to face charges as well, AP reports.

Earlier this week, as reports began to surface that charges were looming, an attorney for Snyder referred to them as “a politically motivated smear campaign,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Snyder, a Republican, was Michigan’s top executive when state-appointed officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014.

It stems from a decision billed as a way to save money and only supposed to be a temporary fix while officials built a pipeline to nearby Lake Huron. But it turned out to be costly, both in lives lost and in a settlement worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pending settlement for victims

Last year Nessel announced a $600 million-dollar settlement for Flint families impacted by the water crisis last year.

The deal “puts the needs of children first,” she said during the August announcement.

Young people were especially vulnerable, at risk of suffering long-term cognitive challenges and other health issues from being exposed to lead contamination in the water.

As NPR’s Bill Chappell reported at the time the settlement indicated that nearly 80% of the funds were earmarked to resolved claims filed on behalf of children and minors.

The remaining portion of the settlement is expected to be divvied up among other Flint residents who fell ill from the contaminated water or suffered property damage, Michigan Public Radio reports.

But a U.S. District Court judge is expected to soon rule on whether to give the settlement preliminary approval, MPR reports.

At least 12 died, more than 80 became sick

The station adds not everyone is happy with the settlement. That includes John McClain, a pastor, who characterized the proposed settlement as “disrespectful,” because he said there are too many roadblocks for residents to access the money and it doesn’t provide enough to cover damages.

“We believe the proposed settlement as currently allocated is just as disrespectful as the injury caused by the water crisis tragedy itself,” McClain told MPR.

At least dozen people died and more than 80 people were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease after water from the Flint River caused lead to leach from old pipes, poisoning the water system city.

Soon after the switch, residents began to complain that the new water in their homes had a foul stench, tasted different and was discolored, according to an MLive report from May 2015, a month after the change in water sources.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality told Flint city officials they did not need to use any corrosion control measures to treat the river water, at least not initially, Michigan Public Radio reported in December 2016.

The “wait-and-see approach was a really bad idea,” experts told MPR, because without the necessary treatment “the protective coating on the inside of the pipes that built up over the years from Detroit’s water likely disappeared. And that’s what caused lead levels to spike in many homes in Flint.”

Now Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, (R-MI), listens to Congressional members remarks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, about the Flint, Mich. water crisis in 2016.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


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Snyder, who has been out of office for two years, apologized for his role in the environmental debacle during his 2016 State of the State address.

“Your families face a crisis, a crisis which you did not create and could not have prevented,” Snyder said. “I want to speak directly, honestly and sincerely to let you know we are praying for you. We are working hard for you and we are absolutely committed to taking the right steps to effectively solve this crisis. To you, the people of Flint, I say … I’m sorry and I will fix it.”

More than a dozen state and city officials were indicted for their roles in the crisis. Several of them accepted plea deals to avoid prison time.

In June of 2019 Nessel announced that state prosecutors were dropping all criminal charges against a group of eight government officials, and moved to launch a more expansive investigation.

“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” Nessel said in a statement at the time.


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Author: Brakkton Booker

With memories of 2020 armed protests, Michigan lawmakers fear weekend violence at state Capitol

By Michael Martina and Nathan Layne

LANSING, Mich. (Reuters) – In the shadow of a towering cast-iron dome, dozens of state police patrolled the perimeter of Michigan’s state Capitol as lawmakers returned to work on Wednesday morning, a sense of calm masking the looming threat of violence this weekend.

The south side was enclosed in a 7-foot-high (2.1 meter) chain-link fence due to ongoing construction. But pedestrians were not barred from its snow-covered lawn or ascending the same front steps that served as an entry point for the hundreds of armed right-wing demonstrators who last year staged what many now see as a trial run https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-michigan/trump-backers-protest-michigan-stay-at-home-orders-at-state-capitol-idUSKCN21Y0BA for the Jan. 6 incursion on Washington.

Just inside the main doorway was a sign that informed visitors of a new rule, enacted on Monday, aimed at easing some concerns about safety at the state Capitol in Lansing: “Open carry of firearms is prohibited in the Capitol,” it read.

Laurie Pohutsky, a Democratic state representative from Livonia, said she was a little nervous, noting that visitors could still take concealed weapons inside.

“We need to be aware of the landscape and be honest about the fact that there are people who want to do harm,” she said after entering the building ahead of Wednesday’s first legislative session of 2021.

The nerves in Lansing mirror the sense of crisis building across the country in the wake of last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington and an FBI warning https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-inauguration-fbi/fbi-warns-of-armed-protests-ahead-of-bidens-inauguration-abc-news-idUSKBN29G28I that armed protests are being planned in all 50 U.S. state capitals in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

But more than anywhere, officials in Lansing know the risks.

In April, days after President Donald Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in protest of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, men with long guns rushed the Capitol, crowding its halls in an effort to pressure lawmakers to end the lockdown.

Some fought to access the floor of the legislative chamber, shouting “Let us in!”, and one group entered the gallery, looking on menancingly at lawmakers below. At least two of the protesters were among those charged in a failed plot to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat and frequent critic of Trump.

The commission that manages the Capitol voted on the open carry ban in a hastily convened session on Monday prompted by the Washington attack. The Michigan State Police have also stepped up security in anticipation of unrest.

Yet noting that the commission stopped short of an outright gun ban, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she considers the Capitol unsafe. Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Nessel called lawmakers “sitting ducks” and Michigan “ground zero” for extremists seeking to overtake a state government.

ALARM BELLS

Indeed, experts say Michigan’s troubling history as a hotbed for militia groups should be ringing alarm bells.

Stephen Piggott, a program analyst for the Western States Center, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that tracks extremists, says many people who traveled to Washington last week are now “re-energized” with an aim to sow chaos in their home state. He sees the capitals of Michigan, Washington, California, Arizona and Pennsylvania as among the potential flashpoints for violence, and reckons Inauguration Day poses the biggest risk.

“That’s Trump’s final day in office,” he said. “I think that may really push folks over the edge.”

Much of the focus of law enforcement has been trained on Sunday, Jan. 17, when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement, whose adherents seek to bring about a second civil war, had previously flagged plans to hold rallies in all 50 states.

Alex Friedfeld, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said he was concerned about post-Jan. 6 social media posts by “boogaloo” followers revealing a sort of envy that they, unlike Trump supporters, were not credited with playing a central role in the mayhem. That envy could be a motivator for some to take future action, he warned.

But Friedfeld also noted a lack of mass organizing on the scale seen ahead of other large protests, which he said could be linked to crackdowns on conservative social media platforms or concerns about a stronger law enforcement presence. Even so, he warned against officials letting down their guard.

“It’s possible that extremist elements latch on to a protest and use it as cover to commit violence in some way,” he said.

In Lansing, the House session on Wednesday opened at noon with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. Aside from media, the gallery above the chamber was largely empty, and there were no protesters outside.

Donna Lasinski, the Michigan House’s Democratic minority leader, does not believe the threat of violence will truly subside until lawmakers who have propagated falsehoods about election fraud disavow those efforts. She has called for the disciplining of state Republicans who have made such claims.

“Until we stop giving it oxygen it will continue to flame,” she said after recalling a bomb threat at the Capitol last week.

(reporting by Michael Martina in Lansing, Mich., and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Conn.; Editing by Matthew Lewis)


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Flint families welcome water crisis charges, seek healing

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Flint mother Ariana Hawk struggled to find words. Bittersweet came to mind, as did frustrated.

“I literally could have cried,” said Hawk, sitting in her car after learning former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and others in his administration were expected to be charged in a water crisis blamed with causing learning disabilities in scores of children and other medical problems among adults in the majority Black city about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

Her son, Sincere Smith, was 2 years old when Hawk noticed something wasn’t right with the family’s tap water. Sometimes the water they drank and used for cooking and bathing was discolored. More concerning was when it gushed out brown.

It wasn’t just her home, but all across the former manufacturing hub that for decades had turned out some of the best cars and trucks produced by U.S. automakers.

Residents had been complaining about the discolored discharge as early as 2014 after the financially strapped city — while under state oversight — switched from water pumped from Detroit to the Flint River to save money.

State and some city officials insisted the water was safe to use — until a group of doctors in September 2015 urged Flint to change its water source after finding high levels of lead in children’s blood.

The water, it turned out, had not been treated to reduce corrosion — causing the toxic metal to leach from old pipes and spoil the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents. The water also was blamed for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area.

In the Hawk household, rashes had started to spread over her son’s body. He became inconsolable when she bathed him. The boy’s pediatrician pointed to the city’s water as the cause.

Sincere would become the face of the Flint water crisis when a photo of him was selected in 2016 for the cover of Time magazine.

Seven years after the water was first switched, Snyder, his health director and other ex-officials have been told they’re being charged in a crisis that has been highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism. Two people with knowledge of the planned prosecution told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the attorney general’s office has informed defense lawyers about indictments in Flint and told them to expect initial court appearances soon. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Flint has since returned to water from Detroit’s system and has replaced more than 9,700 lead service lines, but scars remain — some visible, others psychological.

For Sincere, now 7, and his siblings, water from taps can elicit fear similar to the boogie man or dark closets.

While visiting their grandmother’s home in Florida, Sincere was hesitant about the water, Hawk told The Associated Press.

“I told him ‘It’s not Flint. Y’all can drink it,’” Hawk said. “But they’ve been normalized to drinking bottled water because they can’t drink our water. Flint kids are traumatized.”

Snyder, who left office in 2018, was not initially charged, though others were. But a new probe was started in 2019, with all charges dropped against eight people. Prosecutors working under a new state attorney general said all available evidence was not pursued by the previous team of prosecutors.

“They poisoned the whole city,” Roy Fields Sr. said of officials elected and appointed to make sure residents were safe.

Fields’ adult daughter suffered a miscarriage. He later developed rashes, boils and a skin abscess.

“At first, we thought all we had to do was boil the water and be OK,” Fields, 62, said Wednesday. “We cooked with it, drank it and when we heard about the problems with it, we stopped in 2014, but it was too late.”

He wants someone brought to justice.

“They talk about jail time,” Fields said. “But that does no good. Let them come back in here and work to help educate and do what they can to make this community whole. I was hostile. I had to forgive them in order to move forward.”

The news of charges “is a salve, but it isn’t the end of the story,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped call attention to childhood health risks from Flint’s water.

“Without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis,” Hanna-Attisha said Wednesday in a statement. “Healing wounds and restoring trust will take decades and long-term resources.”

Hawk is skeptical that charges will lead to accountability. Even if there are convictions, who will repair the emotional trauma?

“I don’t want to give up on the young people who don’t have a voice,” she said. “And Sincere, I want him to know that he did something good, that he was brave putting his story out there. I don’t want him to feel like a victim. I tell him now that when he gets older to say, ‘Yeah, I’m the little boy that was on Time magazine that opened the eyes to America to what was happening in the city of Flint.’”

___

Stafford, an investigative reporter on AP’s Race and Ethnicity team, reported from Detroit. Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan. Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit also contributed.

___

Follow Stafford on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kat__stafford


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Michigan plans to charge ex-Gov. Snyder in Flint water probe

Two people with knowledge of the planned prosecution told the AP on Tuesday that the attorney general’s office has informed defense lawyers about indictments in Flint and told them to expect initial court appearances soon. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Courtney Covington Watkins, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said only that investigators were “working diligently” and “will share more as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”

Snyder, a Republican who has been out of office for two years, was governor when state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-saving step while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water, however, was not treated to reduce corrosion — a disastrous decision affirmed by state regulators that caused lead to leach from old pipes and spoil the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents.

Snyder’s attorney, Brian Lennon, released a blistering statement Tuesday, saying a criminal prosecution would be “outrageous.” He said state prosecutors have refused to “share information about these charges with us.”

“Rather than following the evidence to find the truth, the Office of Special Counsel appears to be targeting former Gov. Snyder in a political escapade,” Lennon said.

Snyder apologized for the catastrophe during his 2016 State of the State speech and said government at all levels had failed Flint.

LeeAnne Walters, a mother of four who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, said she wants details about the charges.

“The very fact that people are being held accountable is an amazing feat,” Walters said. “But when people’s lives have been lost and children have been severely hurt, it doesn’t seem like enough.”

The disaster made Flint a nationwide symbol of governmental mismanagement, with residents lining up for bottled water and parents fearing that their children had suffered permanent harm. Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems. The crisis was highlighted as an example of environmental injustice and racism.

At the same time, bacteria in the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’. Legionella bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems, triggering a severe form of pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems. Authorities counted at least 90 cases in Genesee County, including 12 deaths.

The outbreak was announced by Snyder and Lyon in January 2016, although Lyon conceded that he knew that cases were being reported many months earlier.

In 2018, Lyon was ordered to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges after a special prosecutor accused him of failing to timely inform the public about the outbreak. His attorneys argued there wasn’t enough solid information to share earlier.

By June 2019, the entire Flint water investigation was turned upside down after more than three years and millions of dollars. Prosecutors working under a new attorney general, Dana Nessel, dismissed the case against Lyon as well as charges against seven more people and said the probe would start anew.

The decision didn’t affect seven people who had already pleaded no contest to misdemeanors. They cooperated with investigators and their records were eventually scrubbed clean.

Lyon’s attorney said he was turned down when he asked prosecutors for a copy of new charges. The new case “would be a travesty of justice,” Chip Chamberlain said.

Testimony at court hearings had raised questions about when Snyder knew about the Legionnaires’ outbreak. His urban affairs adviser, Harvey Hollins, told a judge that the governor was informed on Christmas Eve 2015. But Snyder had told reporters three weeks later, in January 2016, that he had just learned about it.

Defense attorney Randy Levine said he was informed Monday that Baird, a Flint native, would face charges. Another lawyer, Jamie White, said former Flint public works chief Howard Croft is being charged.

“When the Flint water crisis hit, he wasn’t assigned by Gov. Snyder to go to Flint, but rather he raised his hand and volunteered,” Levine said of Baird.

A resident, Edna Sabucco, 61, said she still uses water filters, although the lead service line at her home of 40-plus years has been replaced, along with more than 9,700 others in Flint.

“He swept things under the rug, in my opinion, and to me that makes him just as guilty as everybody else because he should have come out singing like a canary,” Sabucco said of Snyder.

Separately, the state, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm have agreed to a $641 million settlement with residents over the water crisis, with $600 million coming from Michigan. A judge is considering whether to grant preliminary approval.

———

White reported from Detroit. Eggert reported from Lansing. John Flesher in Traverse City contributed to this story.

———

Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

“War dabei, mich zu Tode zu trinken”: Anthony Hopkins feiert 45 Jahre Alkoholabstinenz

Britischer Schauspieler
“War dabei, mich zu Tode zu trinken”: Anthony Hopkins feiert 45 Jahre Alkoholabstinenz

Schauspieler Anthony Hopkins

Schauspieler Anthony Hopkins

© VALERIE MACON / AFP

Seit 1975 hat er keinen Tropfen Alkohol mehr angerührt: Anthony Hopkins feiert in einer Videobotschaft seine langjährige Alkoholabstinenz und richtet gleichzeitig einen eindringlichen Appell an seine jungen Fans.

Mit einer persönlichen Video-Botschaft blickt Schauspieler Anthony Hopkins auf die vergangenen Monate zurück. “Es war ein hartes Jahr, voller Kummer und Traurigkeit für viele, viele, viele Menschen”, beginnt der 82-Jährige seinen Clip, den er auf Instagram und Twitter veröffentlicht hat. Gleichzeitig nutzt er den Beitrag für ein persönliches Geständnis. “Heute vor 45 Jahren hatte ich einen Weckruf. Ich bewegte mich auf eine Katastrophe zu, war dabei, mich zu Tode zu trinken. Und dann kam mir ein Gedanke: Möchtest du leben oder sterben? Ich habe mich für das Leben entschieden. Plötzlich kam die Erleichterung und mein Leben verlief erstaunlich”, erzählt der Oscar-Preisträger.

Seit Ende der Sechziger hatte Hopkins mit Alkoholproblemen zu kämpfen. Vor allem während seiner Engagements am Royal National Theatre in London griff er oft zur Flasche. “Das ist es, was man in Theatern tut: man trinkt. Es war sehr schwierig, mit mir zu arbeiten, weil ich meistens verkatert war”, sagte Hopkins 2018 vor Studenten der University of California. Er könne immer noch nicht glauben, wie sein Leben verlaufen sei, denn “eigentlich hätte ich im Suff in Wales sterben müssen”, so Hopkins damals. Der Erfolgsdruck und das zunehmende Interesse an seiner Person hätten seine Alkoholsucht nur noch verstärkt. Der Brite bekam den Ruf, schwierig und unberechenbar zu sein. Häufig legte er sich mit Regisseuren oder Kollegen an, seine erste Ehe scheiterte 1972.

Anthony Hopkins trinkt seit 45 Jahren keinen Alkohol

Die Kurve bekam Hopkins schließlich Mitte der Siebziger, im Alter von 38 Jahren. Geholfen trocken zu werden hätten ihm sein Glaube und die Treffen bei den Anonymen Alkoholikern. Seit mittlerweile 45 Jahren hat der Brite keinen Alkohol mehr angerührt. 

Es gebe immer noch Tage, an denen er mit sich hadere, sagt Hopkins in seinem Video. Aber im Großen und Ganzen sei er zufrieden. Vor allem an seine jungen Fans hat er folgende, fast schon philosophische Botschaft: “Haltet durch! Heute ist das Morgen, um das ihr euch gestern so gesorgt habt. Seid mutig und mächtige Kräfte werden euch beistehen.” Diese Einstellung habe ihn durch sein Leben getragen. Erneuten Grund zu feiern hat Anthony Hopkins an Silvester: Dann wird der Schauspieler 83 Jahre alt.

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