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Here are nine officials charged in Flint water crisis

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A total of nine people — many of whom are connected to the state's 2014-15 response to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak — were charged Thursday by Attorney General Dana Nessel's office in relation to the Flint water crisis. 

For three former state of Michigan officials, the charges are new. For the six others,  charges have been resurrected after Nessel's office in 2019 dismissed all pending cases authorized by her predecessor, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, and started the investigation anew. 

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, rear, walks out from the Genesee County Jail alongside his attorney after a video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in downtown Flint, Mich.

Those charged range from a former two-term governor to a Flint public works director, from emergency managers to top state officials. Even a maternal infant health specialist was arraigned.

All of the nine defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday and have maintained their innocence throughout the almost seven years since the state-managed city of nearly 100,000 people switched its water source from a Detroit-area system to the Flint River. 

The switch resulted in lead contamination of residents' drinking water when the river water wasn't properly treated with corrosion controls. It has also been suspected to have been involved in 2014-15 outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the region that sickened more than 90 people and killed at least 12. 

Here are those who were charged:

Rick Snyder

Former Gov. Rick Snyder

Age: 62

Charges: 2 counts of willful neglect of duty

Maximum penalty: 1 year in jail, $1,000 fine

A former business man and Gateway board member, Snyder served as Michigan's 48th governor from 2011 to 2019. The Ann Arbor Republican, who referred to himself as "one tough nerd," focused his efforts on turning around Michigan's economy and floundering state budget. 

His decisions to do so often drew scrutiny and, perhaps, never more so than when he deployed state emergency managers to take over operations of financially struggling cities. 

The state's management of Flint during the April 2014 switch to Flint River water and the decisions preceding and following the switch are among the key factors that have tied so many state employees to investigations there. 

Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said Snyder's charges are a result of his willful neglect of "his mandatory legal duties under the Michigan Constitution and the Emergency Management Act, thereby failing to protect the health and safety of Flint's residents."

Specifically, Snyder failed to "inquire into the performance, condition and administration of the public offices and officers that he appointed and was required to supervise," according to his indictment. 

The indictment also contends he failed to "declare a state of emergency and/or disaster when the governor had notice of a threat of a disaster and/or emergency in the city of Flint." Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint in January 2016 and, about a week later, asked the Obama administration for a major disaster declaration. 

The most high-profile among those charged Thursday, Snyder appeared before 67th District Judge Christopher Odette at about 9:40 a.m., pleading not guilty.

Odette set his bond at $10,000 for each of the two charges. He didn't require Snyder to surrender his passport but told him that he couldn't leave the state without the permission of the court.

The former governor's next court hearing will be a Tuesday pretrial conference before Judge William H. Crawford II.

In a Thursday statement, Snyder's lawyer Lennon said spending taxpayer dollars to pursue the "bogus" charges against Snyder would be a "travesty."

“We are confident Gov. Snyder will be fully exonerated if this flimsy case goes to trial," Lennon said. "Today’s charges do nothing to bring justice to the people of Flint. These unjustified allegations do nothing to resolve a painful chapter in the history of our state. Today’s actions merely perpetrate an outrageous political persecution.”

Booking photo of Nicolas Leonard Lyon from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Nick Lyon, former director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Age: 52

Charges: 9 counts of involuntary manslaughter, 1 count of misconduct in office

Maximum penalty: Up to 15 years and/or $7,500 fine on involuntary manslaughter charges; one year in jail and/or $1,000 fine on misconduct charge 

Lyon took over the state health department in 2014 after the previous director, Jim Haveman, stepped down for health reasons. 

He had worked in the department for at least a decade prior to becoming director. 

Lyon was originally charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter under Schuette, but Nessel's office dropped the charges in June 2019 as it rebooted the Flint probe.

Under Schuette's charges, Lyon faced allegations that he delayed notifying residents of a possible Legionella outbreak that many have linked to the city's change in water source. The delay, prosecutors said at the time, led to the death of at least two individuals. 

At least 12 people are believed to have been killed by the 2014-15 Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the Flint area. 

Lyon's Thursday charges, Hammoud said, are related to his "failures and grossly negligent performance of his legal duties while director of MDHHS."

Lyon's bond was set at $200,000 cash surety, and he is next scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 18.

Lyon's attorney Chip Chamberlain said his client did not make the decision to switch the city's water supply and made his decisions within the health department based on the advice of public health experts. 

"Our hearts go out to Flint citizens who have endured the fallout from that decision," Chamberlain said in a statement. "But it does not help the people of Flint — or our criminal justice system — for the state to charge innocent people with crimes. Mr. Lyon is innocent."

Booking photo of Richard Lewis Baird from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder's top aides

Age: 64

Charges: Perjury during an investigative subpoena investigation, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and extortion in relation to the Flint water case 

Maximum penalties: Penalties range from 5-20 years in prison and various fines

Baird, one of Snyder's closest advisers who was also in charge of Flint's recovery effort, is a Chicago resident who retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2010 after nearly 30 years with the company before he was recruited by Snyder in 2011. He worked for Snyder as his transformation director through the end of the governor's term in 2019.

Baird is on the board of regents for Eastern Michigan University, is chairman of finance company Grow Michigan and has ties to medical device company AvaSure in Grand Rapids, he told 7th Circuit Judge Elizabeth Kelly Thursday. 

He's also on the board of nonprofits including the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, Chance for Life and the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run. 

Hammoud said Thursday Baird improperly used state resources and personnel, and "gave false statements under oath." He also attempted "to interfere or influence ongoing legal proceedings related to the Flint water crisis," she said. 

Baird's extortion charge, Hammoud said, stems from a threat to "a state-appointed research team during their investigation into the source of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County."

Specifically, Baird is alleged to have threatened the leader of the state-appointed Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership, according to his indictment.

Last year, investigative interview transcripts were leaked to VICE News that alleged Baird purportedly attempted "to pay off sick, publicly outspoken Flint residents with offers that included state-funded medical treatment, expanded Medicaid and home infrastructure replacements for pipes and water heaters damaged by Flint River water," according to the Metro Times.

At the time, Baird's attorney said the articles about the transcripts were false.

Baird's attorney, Randall Levine, called the Thursday claims against his client "baseless."

"Mr. Baird is innocent of any wrongdoing and is being unfairly prosecuted by the state’s Democratic attorney general," Levine added in a statement.

Booking photo of Jarrod Peter Agen from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Jarrod Agen, Snyder's communications director

Age: 43

Charges: Perjury during an investigative subpoena investigation

Max penalty: Up to 15 years in prison

Jarrod Agen was Snyder's director of communications during the Flint water crisis and became chief of staff in January 2016 when his predecessor, Dennis Muchmore, left the administration. 

He later served as Vice President Mike Pence’s communications director before becoming lead spokesman for defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

His charge stem from "giving false statements under oath," Hammoud said.

Agen's was given a $35,000, 10% bond and he will next appear in court Feb. 18. 

Booking photo of Eden Victoria Wells from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Dr. Eden Wells, former Michigan chief medical executive

Age: 58

Charges: 9 counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duties

Maximum penalties: Penalties range from one year to 15 years in prison

As the state's chief medical executive, Wells was involved in the state's response to Flint's lead contamination and Legionnaires' disease outbreak. 

Wells also faced charges under Schuette that included involuntary manslaughter, lying to a special police agent and obstruction of justice related to the 2014-15 Legionnaires' outbreaks. 

Specifically, prosecutors argued Wells had a duty and obligation on behalf of Flint residents to press for a public warning on the outbreak of a form of pneumonia.

The charges were eventually dropped by Nessel's office, but some were resurrected Thursday. 

Hammoud said the new misconduct charges against Wells are related to "two separate incidences of preventing or attempting to prevent the distribution of public health information about Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County."

The manslaughter charges, Hammoud said, are related to her "failures and grossly negligent performance of her legal duties."

Booking photo of Darnell Earley from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager

Age: 69

Charges: Three counts of misconduct in office

Maximum penalties: Up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine

Earley was emergency manager for the city of Flint between September 2013 and January 2015, a period that encompassed the city's 2014 switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. 

He later took over as emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools and stayed in that position through February 2016.

“This is an individual who’s a family man, he’s a lifelong resident of the state of Michigan who is in the twilight of his career but has served in government throughout the entire part … of his working life,” said Todd Russel Perkins, Earley’s lawyer, during Thursday's arraignment.

Under Schuette, Earley initially faced 20-year felonies for involuntary manslaughter, alleged false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses over bonding for a new regional water pipeline project that led to the Flint River switch, along with five-year felony misconduct and neglect of duty misdemeanor charges. Those charges were dropped in June 2019 by Nessel's team.

His new charges relate "to city of Flint's finances as well as misinformation about the quality and safety of the Flint water supply," Hammoud said. 

The former emergency manager was given a $75,000 personal recognizance bond and is next due in court on Feb. 18. 

Booking photo of Gerald Winfield Ambrose from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed Flint emergency manager

Age: 76

Charges: Four counts of misconduct in office

Maximum penalties: Up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine. 

Ambrose became Flint's fourth emergency manager in January 2015 and left in April of the same year.

During his brief time in office, residents complained about their water quality and the system had issues with trihalomethanes. He is alleged to have been copied on a March 2015 email from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that informed Flint officials how to "limit the potential for legionella occurrence" in home plumbing.

Under Schuette, Ambrose initially faced felonies for alleged false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses over bonding for a new regional water pipeline project, the Karegnondi Water Authority, that led to the Flint River switch. Those charges were dropped by Nessel's team. 

Thursday's charges stem from "acts related to the city of Flint's finances as well as Flint's water supply source," Hammoud said.

According to his indictment, Ambrose is alleged to have rejected opportunities in early 2015 to switch the city's water back to the Detroit system, directed a consulting firm not to explore the possibility of going back to Detroit water and committed the city to a $7 million emergency loan that hampered Flint's efforts to switch back to Detroit water.

Bond was set at $75,000 personal recognizance. Ambrose is next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 18.

Booking photo of Howard Dowell Croft from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works director

Age: 55

Charges: Two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty

Maximum penalties: Up to a year in jail and/or $1,000 fine

Croft served as Flint's director of public works from 2011 until his resignation in November 2015, overseeing Flint's water treatment and distribution. 

In that role, Croft allegedly recommended a contract in June 2013 to then emergency manager Ed Kurtz that committed the city to use water from the Flint River.

Under Schuette, Croft initially faced 20-year felonies for involuntary manslaughter, false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses over bonding for a new regional water pipeline project, the Karegnondi Water Authority, that eventually led to the Flint River switch. Those charges were dropped.

Croft's charges Thursday, Hammoud said, stem from a willful neglect of "his duty to ensure the safety and quality of the Flint water supply."

He neglected to communicate information on the "risks of health effects" related to using the Flint Water Supply System, according to his indictment. He also is alleged to have failed to pursue or communicate "corrosion concerns" related to the Flint water system.

Croft's bail was set at $10,000 personal recognizance for each count.

Booking photo of Nancy Ann Peeler from the Office of Genesee County Sheriff, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Nancy Peeler, former director of Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting in state Health and Human Services department

Age: 58

Charges: Two felony counts of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty

Max penalties: Penalties ranging from one year in jail to up to five years in prison

Under Schuette, Peeler was charged for allegedly burying a 2015 internal report on blood lead level data in Flint kids. She initially faced five-year felony misconduct and conspiracy charges, along with misdemeanor neglect of duty.

Those charges were dropped when Nessel's office restarted the Flint investigation.

Peeler's new charges, Hammoud said, are related to "concealing and later misrepresenting data related to elevated blood lead levels in children in the city of Flint" and the failure to act on those blood lead levels.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com