To the shock of many, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has dismissed all pending criminal charges related to the Flint Water Crisis, citing grave concerns with the handling of the investigation.
Thursday’s announcement comes nearly four years after Flint declared a state of emergency when the city’s water became contaminated with lead, sickening thousands. Now eight current and former state officials indicted in the public health crisis have been absolved — at least for now.
As reported by The Detroit Free Press, the state attorney general’s office is hoping to launch a new but expanded probe into the crisis after officials said the initial investigation was “bungled.” A statement from the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel said the dismissals were the result of issues with the former Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) investigative approach in the case.
The OSC, who oversaw the 2016 investigation, was appointed by then-Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Not only did the special counsel fail to pursue the necessary evidence, but he entered into agreements that allowed private law firms representing the accused, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, to have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement,” according to prosecutors. He was fired in April.
“We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they so rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation,” Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who are now overseeing the criminal cases, said in a joint statement.
The prosecutors made it a point to emphasize that “the voluntary dismissal is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility” and don’t preclude investigators from refiling charges against the defendants.
A total of 15 people were charged under Schuette, including officials with the state health department, former staff for the Michigan Department of Environmental Safety, and two former emergency managers for Flint. Seven had previously pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges.
“Justice delayed is not always justice denied,” Nessel wrote in a statement, assuring Flint residents that “a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable.”
Residents like Nayyirah Shariff aren’t convinced, however, and called Nessel’s decision a “slap in the face.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Shariff, who heads the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Free Press. “I’m very disappointed with 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.”
Melissa Mays, 40, a fellow Flint resident and founder of the “Water You Fighting For” advocacy group, told CNN she felt “blindsided” upon learning of the dismissals.
“I was horrified,” Mays said. “The way we saw the message delivered today is hurtful. It was retraumatizing.”
A switch of the city’s water source — a cost-cutting decision by state and city officials, proved disastrous after toxic lead leached into Flint’s water supply. Officials insist water lead levels are back to normal, but many residents still fear their water is unsafe and choose to rely on bottled water instead.
“We have constant fear that this will never be fixed,” Mays told CNN. “It’s not fair. We didn’t ask to be poisoned.”
A special community meeting about the dismissals has been scheduled for June 22 in Flint.