Prosecutors in Michigan dropped all pending criminal charges related to the ongoing water crisis in Flint on Thursday, more than three years into the investigation, saying they would start from scratch and wage a “vigorous pursuit of justice.”
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said they came to the decision after being appointed by the newly elected Democratic attorney general in January. The pair alleged the previous investigators had failed to adequately conduct their probe and may have missed key evidence necessary to any criminal trial. Eight people with ties to the Flint crisis had their cases dismissed.
“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 [office of special counsel], particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence,” Hammoud and Worthy said in a joint statement. “We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation. Dismissing these cases allows us to move forward according to the non-negotiable requirements of a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation.”
Flint is still struggling, some five years after the city’s water supply was found to be tainted with lead after a government official changed the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River. Residents reported foul-smelling water that appeared dirty at times, and health officials also linked it to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed at least a dozen people.
The water has improved since the crisis began, but people are still being told to drink filtered or bottled water as the city works to finish a massive project to replace old lead pipes.
Some Flint residents said they were disappointed with the decision, including Nayyirah Shariff, director of the group Flint Rising. Shariff told the Detroit Free Press that the dropped charges amounted to a “slap in the face” to those living in the city.
“This has been bungled,” she told the newspaper.
For their roles in the crisis, 15 city and state officials had been indicted over their actions during the crisis, but no one is currently serving time in prison and many pleaded no contest to misdemeanors, The Associated Press reported. The lawyer for Nick Lyon, the former director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, told several media outlets they were “elated” at the dropped charges.
“We thought this was going to be the ultimate outcome anyway through the courts,” Lyon’s attorney, Chip Chamberlain, told The Washington Post. “But to have it come sooner is far better.”
Hammoud and Worthy said individuals who were previously charged could be charged again in the future, noting they had already identified “additional individuals of interest” in their renewed effort and obtained new information. The pair also said that their leads would be “aggressively pursued.”
Prosecutors recently seized the old phone of former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who was in charge of the state during the Flint incident.
Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, expressed her support for the decision in a statement Thursday, saying that prosecutors and investigators were still working to “ensure those who harmed you are held accountable.”
“The depth and breadth of concern for a fair and just prosecution and justice for the people of Flint is precisely why I appointed and entrusted Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy to lead the Flint criminal cases,” said Nessel, who was elected in November. “I trust them and if this step is necessary for them to do a comprehensive and complete investigation, I am in absolute support.”