A judge dismissed criminal charges against former Michigan governor Rick Snyder in the Flint water crisis, months after the state Supreme Court said indictments returned by a one-person grand jury were invalid.
Mr Snyder, a Republican who left office in 2019, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of misconduct in office. He was the first person in state history to be charged for alleged crimes related to service as governor.
Mr Snyder also is the eighth person to have a Flint water case thrown out after the Supreme Court’s unanimous June opinion.
Genesee County Judge F Kay Behm signed the order on Wednesday, a day after the US Senate approved her nomination to become a federal judge in eastern Michigan.
“The charges against (Snyder) were not properly brought and must be dismissed at this time,” Judge Behm said.
The Michigan attorney general’s office has tried to keep the cases alive but so far has lost at every turn. Prosecutors have argued that the indictments could simply be turned into common criminal complaints in district court, but Judge Behm and another judge have rejected that approach.
Flint’s water became tainted with lead after city managers appointed by Snyder began using the Flint River in 2014 to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was built. The water was not treated to reduce its corrosive qualities, causing lead to break off from old pipes and contaminate the system for more than a year.
The water switch has also been blamed for nine deaths linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission said it was the result of systemic racism, doubting that the water switch and the brush-off of complaints in the majority-black city would have occurred in a white, prosperous community.
Flint residents complained about the water’s smell, taste and appearance, raising health concerns and reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems. Mr Snyder did not acknowledge that lead was a problem until 17 months after the water switch, in autumn 2015, when he pledged to take action.
He acknowledged that state government had botched the water switch, especially regulators who did not require certain treatments. But his defence team denies that Mr Snyder’s conduct rose to the level of a crime.
Michigan prosecutors typically file charges in a district court after a police investigation. A one-judge grand jury was rare and had mostly been used in Detroit and Flint to protect witnesses who could testify in private about violent crimes.
State prosecutors, working with Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, chose that path in the Flint water saga to hear evidence in secret and get indictments against Snyder and others.
But the state Supreme Court unanimously said a one-judge grand jury cannot issue indictments. The process apparently had never been challenged.
Judge Elizabeth Kelly in October dismissed felony charges against seven people, including two senior health officials from Snyder’s administration, Nick Lyon and Eden Wells, who had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in nine Legionnaires’ deaths.
The attorney general’s office is trying to persuade the appeals court to intervene and reverse the decision.
A former Flint public works official, Howard Croft, still has misdemeanors pending with a different judge.