Prosecutors have dropped all criminal charges against eight people in the scandal that left the water system tainted with lead in Flint, Michigan.
This is a stunning and deeply disappointing decision that delays any possibility of justice for the victims of the Flint water crisis.
After more than three years — and millions of dollars and investigation into one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history — officials have not been held accountable.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who took control of the investigation in January after the election of a new attorney general, announced the decision Thursday.
Hammoud said “all available evidence was not pursued” by the previous team of prosecutors and pledged to start from scratch. Officials took possession last week of “millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation,” Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
The efforts “have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint water crisis,” they said, putting investigators “in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve.”
Hammoud’s team recently used search warrants to get state-owned mobile devices of former Gov. Rick Snyder and 66 other people from storage.
The state dismissed charges against Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, who was accused of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly failing to alert the public in a timely fashion about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when Flint was drawing improperly treated water from the Flint River in 2014 and 2015.
The dropped charges came a day before a judge planned to announce whether a 2018 decision to send Lyon to trial would stand. Dropping the charges with just hours to spare killed the possibility of an adverse ruling and still gives prosecutors the freedom to haul Lyon into court again.
However, Lyon’s defense attorney Chip Chamberlain said they “feel fantastic and vindicated.”
“We’re confident that a just and fair investigation, done properly, will yield no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing,” he said.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said a “fearless” team was still on the case. “Justice delayed is not always justice denied,” Nessel said in a statement.
Residents of Flint, a majority-Black, financially strapped city of 100,000, are right to be skeptical.
“We don’t know if new charges will be filed,” LeeAnne Walters, who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, told The Associated Press. “It feels kind of degrading, like all that we went through doesn’t matter. Our city was poisoned, my children have health issues and the people responsible just had all the charges dropped against them.”
The Flint water crisis revealed an intolerable level of incompetence on the part of public officials, especially on the state level. Officials must be held accountable for their wrongdoing in Flint.