Flint mayor satisfied, but others outraged after water charges dropped

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Some Flint activists say they’re dismayed state prosecutors on Thursday dropped criminal charges against officials related to the contamination of the city’s water.

Resident LeeAnne Walters, whose complaints about city water got the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015, said she was disappointed Attorney General Dana Nessel’s prosecution team dropped the charges without explaining what they plan to do to seek justice on behalf of Flint residents. Nessel on Thursday announced she could still bring charges in the case.

Related: Dana Nessel’s office drops charges in Flint water contamination case

Walters likened Nessel’s announcement to the state government’s dismissive treatment of residents when they complained of dingy, lead-contaminated water spewing from their faucets after the city’s water source was switched to the Flint River in 2014.

“I feel like citizens should be disappointed, they should be outraged and voice their opinion. We need some transparency and to know what [Nessel] is going to do,” Walters.

“Dropping the charges and saying you’re going to pick them back up is doing nothing but creating more distrust in the system.”

In a joint statement Thursday, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy — leaders of the prosecution team — said dropping charges in eight remaining criminal cases will allow them to restart the cases which they said were not completely investigated by the prior administration.

Members of the Flint community met outside of the Flint Water Treatment Plant to protest the state of Flint’s water on the five-year anniversary of the water crisis Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Flint. Community members then traveled to the steps of the state capital in Lansing to continue to make their voices heard.
Mark Felix for Flint Beat

Among the dropped cases are involuntary manslaughter charges against former state Health Director Nick Lyon and former state Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells. All charges were dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning they could be refiled.

Nessel scheduled a public meeting in Flint on June 28, but said she would not take questions from the media until then.

Though distrust in government lingers in Flint, some hope that Nessel’s administration will going to do a better job than her Republican predecessor, Bill Schuette.

Art Woodson, an activist who unsuccessfully sought the recall of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, said he is encouraged that Nessel, a Democrat who was elected in November, subpoenaed the cell phones of former Gov. Rick Snyder and 65 other officials.

“I think they are going to go after Snyder. This is good,” he said.

Snyder has downplayed the warrants, calling it a procedural move related to the change of administration of attorneys general.

Woodson said Nessel’s team has to work to win over Flint residents.

“Don’t get it twisted,” Woodson said. “There’s a lot of twists and turns in this and people tell us everything and anything and turn around and do something totally different.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver issued a statement saying she is satisfied the case is now being handled with the “seriousness and dogged determination that it should have been handled with from the beginning,” adding that the prior prosecution team was a disappointment.

Nessel fired the former special prosecutor, Todd Flood, in April, accusing his team of failing to review boxes of documents related to the case  found stored in the basement of a state building.

“The residents of the City of Flint deserve justice, we deserve to have every single person involved investigated. There were millions of documents and a lot of devices that should have been turned over that would have aided in getting the justice that we seek,” Weaver wrote in a statement released Thursday.

“How can our community regain any trust and respect from all branches of government when all levels failed them, then you allow the people you are prosecuting to decided (sic) what evidence they want you to have? This is once again an entire administrations (sic) clear lack of respect for human life and common decency, another attempt to cover up what should have never happened to begin with.”

For some in Flint, prosecution is taking so long they say they’ve lost faith that justice will be served.

Timothy Abdul-Matin, co-founder and program director for a nonprofit called MADE (Money, Attitude, Direction and Education) Institute that works with returning citizens, said he has little faith that high-ranking officials will ever be prosecuted.

“For them to say, ‘We’re going to drop the charges,’ I don’t expect anything else,” he said.

“We don’t see the people of their stature – like Nick Lyon –  face the consequences. That’s how white supremacy works. They escape prosecution,” Abdul-Matin said.

Flint residents have reasons to be skeptical, but they should hear Nessel out, Woodson said.

“I say, let’s be patient and have faith and wait until June 28th ,” he said. “And [to] Nessel: what you got to say, it better be real good.”

(This story was written by Chastity Pratt for Bridge Magazine and was made available through a collaboration of nonprofit news outlets who are active members of the Institute for Nonprofit News.) 

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