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Flint water crisis criminal charges dismissed; Michigan AG launches expanded probe

Workers wait to hand out water to Flint, Mich., residents from a Community Point of Distribution site at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Flint's north side on Aug. 5, 2016. On Thursday, the Michigan Attorney General dismissed pending criminal charges relating to the crisis.

RYAN GARZA/DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS

By PAUL EGAN | Detroit Free Press | Published: June 13, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has dismissed all pending criminal charges arising from the Flint drinking water crisis, saying it is has instead started over with an expanded investigation.

The office on Thursday announced the dismissal of charges against all eight remaining defendants, including an involuntary manslaughter charge against Nick Lyon, the former director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Charges were also dismissed against other officials from the health department, plus two former Flint emergency managers and current or former employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Flint.

The statement from the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel said the dismissals were a response to problems with the original investigation, launched under former Attorney General Bill Schuette, and don’t preclude recharging the original defendants or adding new ones.

Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, described the announcement as “a slap in the face to Flint residents.”

“This has been bungled,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“I’m very disappointed with (Attorney General) Dana Nessel’s office because she ran on a platform that she was going to provide justice for Flint residents, and it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”

Flint resident Melissa Mays, founder of the group Water You Fighting For, said the meeting in Flint scheduled for late this month should have been held prior to the announcement or the decision being made. She said she learned about the dismissals from a reporter for The New York Times.

Mays said special prosecutor Todd Flood had been moving cases through the court system and meeting with residents, and “I don’t understand why scrapping it is the best way to go,” Mays said.

“It’s extremely terrifying,” she said. “Now, we have people who may or may not know what is going on,” and “all it does is reinforce that our voices mean nothing.”

Fifteen people had been charged in total under Schuette and Flood. Seven had pleaded no contest to misdemeanors, with expectations they would cooperate with other pending prosecutions and their records would eventually be wiped clean.

A “community conversation” is set for June 28 in Flint with Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is handling the criminal charges, to explain the decision and answer questions.

“Legitimate criminal prosecutions require complete investigations,” Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who is assisting Hammoud, said in a joint statement.

“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 (Office of Special Counsel), particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence.

“After a complete evaluation, our concerns were validated. Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all 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 Gov. Rick Snyder — a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

The team “worked to salvage whatever progress had been made,” but “we were also mindful of the massive expenditure of public resources up to that point and sought to use taxpayer money as efficiently as possible,” the statement said.

“Nonetheless, 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.”

After a lengthy preliminary hearing, Lyon was bound over to stand trial on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office. Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was also bound over for trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges after her preliminary exam in district court in Flint.

In addition to Lyon and Wells, charges were dismissed against former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, DEQ official Patrick Cook and current or former DHHS officials Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott.

Flood, who was fired by Hammoud on April 14, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The statement from Hammoud and Worthy said the team ‘has already identified additional individuals of interest and new information,” and “these investigative leads will be aggressively pursued.”

They said they “understand this decision will not bring immediate remedy or relief to the citizens of Flint, who remain victims of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in United States history.”

However, “we recognize the only acceptable remedy is the vigorous pursuit of justice, which demands an uncompromising investigation … and professional prosecution of all those criminally culpable.”

©2019 Detroit Free Press

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