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The Flint water crisis prosecution team located within the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel has dropped all pending criminal cases related to the water crisis, which were brought by former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement that they “worked to salvage” the cases but ultimately dismissed them in order to launch an expanded investigation, citing “grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the [Office of Special Counsel], particularly concerning the pursuit of evidence.”
Dismissing the cases “is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility” and they will be able to refile charges against the defendants or add new charges and defendants, Hammoud and Worthy said.
Schuette, in a series of tweets, defended the investigation launched during his term in office, saying that the investigation was “staffed and conducted with the highest level of professionalism and expertise.”
“We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team. Everything we did was for the people of Flint,” Schuette said.
Charges were dropped against eight people, including Nick Lyon, Michigan’s former health director. Lyon and at least five other defendants were facing involuntary manslaughter charges.
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), who is currently running for mayor, criticized the decision in a statement.
“We’ve been told to wait, to be patient, that justice was coming, but where is that justice today? My city is losing faith in our government, and that distrust was justified today when it once again failed them so miserably,” Neeley said. “I’m not going to rest until everyone involved is held accountable, and justice is truly served. I and the residents of Flint truly hope the attorney general’s office will finally join us in this fight.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) also criticized the decision, saying that he wants “to see people behind bars.”
“Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city. Months of investigation have turned into years, and the only thing to show for it is a bunch of lawyers who have gotten rich off the taxpayers’ dime,” Ananich said. “The people of Flint believe that they will never see justice, and sadly, so far they’ve been proven right. I hope and expect that this will not be the case for much longer, but until then, I will continue to fight for my city and hold people accountable.”
Nessel, who is handling the civil litigation related to the water crisis, expressed her support for the move in a statement, saying that “if this step is necessary for them to do a comprehensive and complete investigation, I am in absolute support.”
“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,” Nessel said.
Hammoud and Worthy said that they “believed the people of Flint deserved expeditious action” but that they “cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation.”
“We 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,” Hammoud and Worthy said. “However, we recognize the only acceptable remedy is the vigorous pursuit of justice, which demands an uncompromising investigation of the Flint Water Crisis and professional prosecution of all those criminally culpable.”
Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement that she supports the decision.
“I am happy to see that this case is being handled with the seriousness and dogged determination that it should have been handled with from the beginning,” Weaver said. “The residents of the City of Flint deserve justice, we deserve to have every single person involved investigated.”
Nessel’s office said they will not respond to media inquiries about the decision until after Hammoud and Worthy hold a community conversation in Flint on June 28. Additional details on the forum are expected to be announced in the coming days.
Updated June 13 at 4:27 p.m. with comment from former Attorney General Bill Schuette and state Rep. Sheldon Neeley.