Water Tower At Flint Water Plant; Flint, Michigan. (Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com).
All pending criminal charges have been dismissed in the ongoing battle over who bears responsibility for the Flint Water Crisis.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy have dropped the cases because they argue that the original investigation from the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) was based on a “flawed foundation.”
Prosecutors have pledged to reopen the investigation, but all pending criminal charges have been dropped due to concerns about the investigative and legal approach used by the OSC. Appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, the OSC was tasked with overseeing the investigation, but Hammoud and Worthy have accused the inquiry of engaging in practices “contrary to accepted standards of investigation and prosecution.”
Rather than pursuing all available evidence, the OSC entered into agreements with private law firms, representing various state agencies and former Governor Rick Snyder. This agreement narrowed the scope of the investigation and gave the private firms a role in determining what information was shared with law enforcement, according to the statement from Solicitor General Hammoud and Prosecutor Worthy.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated her full support for Hammoud and Worthy.
She also highlighted the need for a thorough investigation, stating, “The depth and breadth of concern for a fair and just prosecution and justice for the people of Flint is precisely why I entrusted Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy to lead the investigation.”
Nessel went on to say, “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.”
Activists had a less optimistic assessment of the state’s plans. LeeAnne Walters, an activist and resident of Flint who helped bring the crisis into the national spotlight, expressed disappointment: “Our city was poisoned, my children have health issues, and the people responsible just had all the charges dropped against them.” Others feel a deep sense of betrayal and bemoaned the fate of families who have lost loved ones during the crisis, according to the Associated Press.
The dropped criminal cases include charges for involuntary manslaughter stemming from the failure of government officials to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014 and 2015 that killed at least 12 people. Some of the most prominent cases included Nick Lyon and Dr. Eden Wells.
Lyon, the former Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was charged with involuntary manslaughter based on the testimony of a special agent who alleged Lyon had knowledge of the crisis in January 2015 but did not alert the public until a year later. The delay apparently led to the death of at least one person, according to NBC News. Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical examiner, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter, lying to a special agent, and obstruction of justice, according to The Detroit News.
Others charged in the controversy, including a Flint public works director and the emergency managers appointed to oversee the city, had their charges dropped on Thursday. While some state and city officials previously had the charges against them dropped, seven others had already pleaded no contest to misdemeanors and, so far, the state’s decision to drop the charges has not affected those cases. A total of 15 people were charged in the original investigation, according to Slate.
In their joint statements, Hammoud and Worthy noted that their investigation possesses “millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices,” and their new investigation has already “produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint Water Crisis.” They also stressed that the voluntary dismissals were not a determination of any person’s criminal responsibility and stated, “We are not precluded from refiling charges against the defendant’s listed below or adding new charges and additional defendants.”
The Flint Water Crisis began in 2014. Due to a $25 million deficit in Flint’s finances, Rick Snyder, then governor of Michigan, assigned an emergency manager to take over the city’s finances in 2011. In order to address the deficit, the city announced a new pipeline to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. While the pipeline was under construction, the city, under the guidance of the emergency manager, turned to the Flint River as a water source in April of 2014. Shortly thereafter, residents began to complain about the smell and taste of the water. Testing by the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Tech in 2015 revealed dangerous levels of lead in the water.
A class-action lawsuit was filed against the state, charging that state agencies were not treating the water with an anti-corrosive agent. Residents subsequently filed more than a dozen lawsuits as well as further class-action suits against all those who participated in the decision to switch the source of the city’s water and was responsible for monitoring water quality, including the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, and numerous state and local officials.
About the Author
Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.