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The Flint water crisis didn’t just happen. It was approved by those in power. Yet, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and four others seek to evoke the fifth amendment through their attorneys to avoid self-incrimination.
U.S District Court Judge Judith Levy says she will wait to decide whether they must appear before a jury to testify in a civil lawsuit connected to the water and humanitarian catastrophe.
Judge Levy heard arguments from attorneys representing Snyder, his former aide Rich Baird, Howard Croft, the former director for Flint’s Department of Public Works, and former emergency managers, Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Early, who made their cases in a motion hearing Tuesday to halt subpoenas issued to their clients.
Nine former state officials were indicted on Jan. 14, 2021, for a total of 42 counts of charges related to the Flint water crisis. Snyder faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty, which he has denied. Croft was charged with willful neglect of duty. Baird received felony charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, official misconduct, and extortion. Earley and Ambrose were charged with several counts of misconduct in office.
The city of Flint, Michigan, has settled claims over the years-long water crisis that negatively impacted men, women, and particularly children across the majority-Black city. The $626 million dollar Flint water settlement dates back to 2014 when their city didn’t use anti-corrosion chemicals during the process, which caused lead to leak into the water supply, affecting over 100,000 residents.
The former state officials have pleaded ‘not guilty’ to their respective charges concerning the Flint water crisis and are potential witnesses in a civil trial against two engineering companies. The five defendants answered questions in videotaped depositions made in 2020 before they were charged.
While those taped depositions could be played before a jury in the civil trial against Lockwood, Andrews & Newman (LAN) and Veolia North America (VNA), their attorneys argued they should not be forced to testify beyond that to prevent potential incrimination.
Residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, were warned not long ago to stop using the tap water in the city as dangerous amounts of toxic lead had been found in water pipes over the past three years. Roughly 9,800 people reside in Benton Harbor, with 84% of citizens identifying themselves as Black or African-American.
LAN and VNA, two contracted engineering firms that reviewed Flint’s water system, are being sued by four children who were exposed to lead contamination due to the Michigan city’s tainted drinking water.
The lawsuit claims the engineering firms committed professional negligence by inadequately advising city officials and not ensuring the water being pulled from the Flint River was properly treated. Both LAN and VNA deny any wrongdoing, citing the city’s and state’s efforts to cut costs as the culprit behind the lead contamination.
The engineering firms were not a part of last year’s $626 million settlement litigation involving damage claims against the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, Rowe Professional services, and McLaren Flint Hospital.
The civil trial started on Feb. 28 and is expected to continue for several more weeks.