Lansing, MI–Attorney General Dana Nessel responded to concerns that criminal charges brought by her office against former Gov. Rick Snyder and other former state officials don’t go far enough during an MSNBC appearance Sunday evening.

Nessel, appearing alongside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, was shown clips from interviews with two Flint activists who say the criminal charges – including two counts of willful neglect of duty filed against Snyder, each of which are a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine – aren’t enough to get justice for the residents of Flint.

Jasmine Hall called the charges “a slap in the face” and said they “show us that our lives don’t matter.”

“Everybody is talking to us. No one is listening,” said Richard Jones. “Because if Dana Nessel was listening to us, it would’ve been more serious charges.”

Nessel, who did not oversee the criminal investigation due to a conflict wall put in place while she was handling civil litigation related to the water crisis, defended the findings of Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

“Generally speaking, criminal charges cannot be based on community outrage. It has to be based on the facts, the law, and the evidence, and that is really it,” Nessel said. “I expect that the career prosecutors who handled these cases took into account in the 20 million documents that they looked at, the hundreds of devices, the hundreds and hundreds of witnesses they interviewed – I’m sure they explored every potential avenue, and that the charges they arrived on were based on facts, law and evidence.”

The charges against Snyder were officially announced Thursday morning following a year of grand jury proceedings. Charges were also brought against eight other individuals, including:

  • Nick Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
    • Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, each a felony punishable by 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine
    • One count of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine
  • Eden Wells, former chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
    • Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, each a felony punishable by 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine
    • Two counts of misconduct in office, each a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
    • One count of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint emergency manager
    • Three counts of misconduct in office, each a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
  • Gerald Ambrose, former Flint emergency manager
    • Four counts of misconduct in office, each a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
  • Richard Baird, former transformation manager and senior adviser to former Gov. Rick Snyder
    • One count of extortion, a felony punishable by 20 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
    • One count of perjury, a felony punishably by 15 years in prison
    • One count of official misconduct in office, a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
    • One count of obstruction of justice, a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
  • Jarrod Agen, former communications director and chief of staff for Gov. Rick Snyder
    • One county of perjury, a felony punishable by 15 years in prison
  • Nancy Peeler, current Early Childhood Health Section manager at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
    • Two counts of misconduct in office, each a felony punishable by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
    • One count of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishably by one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine
  • Howard Croft, former director of the Flint Department of Public Works
    • Two counts of willful neglect of duty, each punishably by one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine

All of the defendants turned themselves in and were arraigned on Jan. 14. Snyder and Croft have a court date set for Jan. 19 in the 67th District Court, while Agen, Ambrose, Baird, Earley, Lyon, Peeler and Wells have court dates set for Feb. 18 in the Seventh Circuit Court.

According to a report in The Intercept, investigators in the office of former Attorney General Bill Schuette had evidence to charge Snyder with misconduct in office – a felony punishably by five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine – in addition to the willful neglect of duty charges.

The team also reportedly had considered building a case against Snyder for involuntary manslaughter – a felony punishable by 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine – but their investigation had not yet been completed when Nessel’s office dismissed all ongoing criminal cases in 2019 to launch a rebooted investigation, citing “grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the [Office of Special Counsel], particularly concerning the pursuit of evidence.”

Schuette said in a tweet that it would be improper for him to comment on the charges filed by Nessel’s office, but defended his office’s investigation.

“People in Flint deserve justice. Their water was poisoned – 12 people died,” Schuette tweeted. “Our independent team conducted an investigation by the book. I stand by the charges filed during my terms as Attorney General of Michigan.”

Nessel also addressed criticisms of the civil settlement Sunday, pointing out that it is the largest settlement in Michigan’s history.

“In regard to this civil settlement, which the governor and I worked very, very hard to try to implement as quickly as we could understanding that the people of the city of Flint deserved indemnification to whatever extent we could provide that – this is the largest settlement in the history of the state of Michigan. And we expect that the settlement, which is now at $641 million, will only grow as it later includes the EPA, and potentially some of the engineering firms,” Nessel said.

Nessel acknowledged that no amount of litigation will ever be able to truly undo the damage that was done in Flint.

“So, no, we’re never going to be able to make the residents of the city of Flint whole. No matter how much money, no matter how lengthy the prison sentences are of anyone who is charged and if they’re convicted, they won’t be made whole,” Nessel said. “But all we can do is the best we can to hold people accountable and to make the promise that while the three of us are in charge of the executive offices, nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Whitmer said that helping the people of Flint goes beyond the court system and also includes things like the state’s budgets.

“As the attorney general just said, we cannot undo the damage that was done. But under our watch, we’re going to do everything to make sure that the people of Flint have the support they need. And that extends to things like writing budgets that support the education of kids, the access to nutrition, helping the mayor finalize the last remaining pipes that need to be replaced,” Whitmer said. “We’ve made great strides, and yet we are not done with the work we’re going to do to support the people of Flint.”

Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a freelance reporter covering politics and policy in Michigan. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first started covering politics during the 2016 presidential...