Michigan Prosecutors Drop Criminal Charges Against Officials Involved in Flint Water Crisis
Michigan prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis Thursday, citing concerns about the investigation they had inherited from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, CNN reported.
"We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation," Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said in a statement. "Dismissing these cases allows us to move forward according to the non-negotiable requirements of a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation."
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy issued the following statement after new filing in Flint Water prosecution: https://t.co/R52ijUsaz6— Michigan Attorney General (@MIAttyGen) June 13, 2019
The news comes a little more than three years after the first criminal charges were filed and a little more than five years since an emergency manager switched Flint's water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. The highly corrosive water leached lead from the pipes, contaminating the drinking water with unsafe levels of the heavy metal. The new water was also linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed at least 12, The New York Times reported.
For Flint residents, the news of the dropped charges was the latest in a long line of betrayals from government officials. Flint activist Melissa Mays, who founded the advocacy group Water You Fighting For, wrote in a Facebook post that she first heard the news of the dropped charges from a New York Times reporter.
"This is not justice," Mays told The New York Times. "It just seems like a political ploy. The only thing it tells me is our lives don't matter."
Day #1875 in the #FlintWaterCrisis: AG @dananessel drops all criminal charges just before manslaughter trial dates are set and doesn't inform Flint residents. The shock. The horror. Being re-traumatized is NOT what Flint needs... https://t.co/Xw82KwD5nF— Melissa Mays (@FlintGate) June 13, 2019
But the prosecutors, who took over the case after the Michigan attorney general's office passed from Republican to Democratic control earlier this year, argued in their statement that there had been major problems with the original investigation:
Legitimate criminal prosecutions require complete investigations. Upon assuming responsibility of this case, our team of career prosecutors and investigators had immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the OSC, particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence. After a complete evaluation, our concerns were validated. Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all the available evidence was not pursued. Instead, the OSC entered into agreements that gave private law firms — representing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Treasury, and the Executive Office of former Governor Rick Snyder — a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.
Hammoud and Worthy said they had already uncovered new information and pinpointed additional people who might be charged. They also said dropping the charges did not prevent them from filing new charges against the original defendants. The pair said they would not answer media inquiries until they spoke directly to Flint residents at a community meeting scheduled for June 28.
Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel supported the prosecutors' decision.
"I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable," she said in a statement.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following statement after learning of the Flint prosecution team's dismissal of all Flint criminal cases without prejudice: pic.twitter.com/hLS75Q9smw— Michigan Attorney General (@MIAttyGen) June 13, 2019
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also expressed tentative support for the decision.
"It is frustrating, but I'd rather be frustrated at this end and know that they're going to do a deep dive into what happened," Weaver told The New York Times. "I think this way, they may have the evidence they need to be able to hold them accountable and throw away the key."
Schuette, meanwhile, took to Twitter to defend his team's investigation. He noted that the OSC had brought 59 charges against 15 people and won five convictions.
"We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team. Everything we did was for the people of Flint," he wrote.
We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team. Everything we did was for the people of Flint.— Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) June 13, 2019
The news means that Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells will no longer face trial for charges including involuntary manslaughter after they allegedly failed to warn residents of the Legionnaires' outbreak in a timely manner, The Detroit News reported. Lyon was the highest-ranking official to be charged in the initial investigation. Charges against six other officials were also dropped Thursday. Seven of the original 15 charged had previously agreed to plea deals.
Chip Chamberlain, one of Lyon's attorneys, told The Detroit News that his client "feels fantastic and grateful and vindicated."
However, Lyon and the others could face new charges.
"If charges are dismissed, usually prosecutors have six months or so to refile charges and it won't affect the statute of limitations," Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor Peter Henning told The Detroit News.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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