Quantcast

Michigan Prosecutors Drop Criminal Charges Against Officials Involved in Flint Water Crisis

Politics
Demonstrators outside a Republican presidential debate in Detroit in 2016. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new report spotlights a U.N. estimate that at least 275 million people rely on healthy coral reefs. A sea turtle near the Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef is seen above. THE OCEAN AGENCY / XL CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY

By Jessica Corbett

In a new report about how the world's coral reefs face "the combined threats of climate change, pollution, and overfishing" — endangering the future of marine biodiversity — a London-based nonprofit calls for greater global efforts to end the climate crisis and ensure the survival of these vital underwater ecosystems.

Read More
Half of the extracted resources used were sand, clay, gravel and cement, seen above, for building, along with the other minerals that produce fertilizer. Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

The world is using up more and more resources and global recycling is falling. That's the grim takeaway from a new report by the Circle Economy think tank, which found that the world used up more than 110 billion tons, or 100.6 billion metric tons, of natural resources, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Read More
Sponsored

By Gero Rueter

Heating with coal, oil and natural gas accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. But that's something we can change, says Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passive House Institute in the western German city of Darmstadt.

Read More
Researchers estimate that 142,000 people died due to drug use in 2016. Markus Spiske / Unsplash

By George Citroner

  • Recent research finds that official government figures may be underestimating drug deaths by half.
  • Researchers estimate that 142,000 people died due to drug use in 2016.
  • Drug use decreases life expectancy after age 15 by 1.4 years for men and by just under 1 year for women, on average.

Government records may be severely underreporting how many Americans die from drug use, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University.

Read More
Water coolers in front of shut-off water fountains at Center School in Stow, MA on Sept. 4, 2019 after elevated levels of PFAS were found in the water. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In a new nationwide assessment of drinking water systems, the Environmental Working Group found that toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are far more prevalent than previously thought.

Read More