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Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder charged in Flint water crisis

A decision in 2014 left the city with lead-contaminated water and a regional outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed 12 people.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who ran the state at the time of the devastating 2014 Flint water scandal, has been charged in the crisis that led to the Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

Snyder pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to two counts of willful neglect of duty, before a judge set bond at $10,000.

The former governor was ordered to not leave the state ahead of his next date on Tuesday. He faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

And just before Snyder appeared in court, Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in connection to the deaths of nine people who got Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis.

"We believe there is no evidence to support any criminal charges against Governor Snyder," the former governor's defense attorney Brian Lennon told The Associated Press on Wednesday night, adding that state prosecutors hadn't provided him with any details.

Requests for comment by NBC News from Lennon weren't immediately returned. The state attorney general's office had no comment.

Attorney General Dana Nessel and prosecutors are expected to discuss the case during a press conference Thursday morning.

The decision by Snyder's administration in 2014 to switch Flint from Detroit's water system to the Flint River led to the disaster, as the untreated river water resulted in pipe corrosion and lead contamination.

Criminal charges were filed in 2017 against a number of state officials, including Lyon, over the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the same time as the contaminated water crisis. Lyon was accused of failing to inform the public for a year after he learned about the outbreak in 2015.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Lyon and seven other people in 2019.

Experts have said the city's contaminated water led to the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water.

Bryant Nolden, a member of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners who runs a historic recreation center in Flint, celebrated the news that those indicted would include Snyder.

"The buck stopped at Governor Snyder," he said. "He was the one that put the people in place that actually did this. We have to see how this all plays out, but I'm very happy to hear that some folks are going to be held accountable at the highest level."

Nolden said he and his neighbors in Flint were disappointed when earlier rounds of indictments stopped short of Snyder. "I was a little concerned that it wouldn't go all the way up the ladder to him."

Bringing Snyder to account, he said, won't repair the damage done in Flint — including skyrocketing rates of children who need special education services — but it will improve morale among residents.

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"The residents here are very resilient," he said. "We've made it through, and we're dealing with it, but I think that this will help in some small way, letting them know that justice will be served because these people will be held accountable for the wrongs that they did here in this community."

Residents of Flint, a majority-Black city, have struggled for years to recover from the crisis as they relied for months on bottled water as their primary source of clean water and their property values suffered.

The state agreed to a $600 million settlement in August in a class-action lawsuit with Flint residents whose health was afflicted, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

CORRECTION (Jan. 14, 2021, 10:17 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated when Flint reached a $600 million settlement with the state. It was in August, not April.