LANSING (WJRT) (6/13/2019) - The new prosecution team handling Flint water cases is starting over from scratch.
All charges have been dropped against eight defendants, including former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon.
The cases are being dismissed without prejudice, meaning new charges can be filed against them later. However, more than a year of court proceedings and millions of dollars in legal fees will be for naught with the charges dropped.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy want to make sure they conduct a "full and complete investigation" before moving forward with any new cases, they said in a joint statement.
Charges against the following defendants have been dropped:
-- Lyon, who was the state's top public health official.
-- Former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley.
-- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official Patrick Cook.
-- Former Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft.
-- Former Michigan Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells.
-- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials Robert Scott and Nancy Peeler.
They said Thursday's announcement is a reaction to "immediate and grave concerns" they had with Special Prosecutor Todd Flood's work under former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Worthy and Hammoud say Flood's team did not pursue all available information about the cases and cut deals with private law firms representing various state agencies regarding what information would be released in the investigation.
They were mindful of the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on lawyers for both sides of the case, along with months of courtroom proceedings up to this point. However, Worthy and Hammoud believe they couldn't continue based on Flood's "flawed foundation."
The fresh investigation is well under way, with millions of pages of documents and data from hundreds of electronic devices, including mobile devices used by former Gov. Rick Snyder.
Worthy and Hammoud said dropping the charges doesn't determine anyone's guilt or innocence. They are free to refile the charges or add charges against all of the defendants at any time.
Hammoud and Worthy plan to host a community conversation in Flint on June 28 to explain the dramatic action. A time and place for the meeting was not announced Thursday.
Worthy and Hammoud declined further comment Thursday until after the June 28 meeting. They issued the following statement:
“Legitimate criminal prosecutions require complete investigations. 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, 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 Governor Rick Snyder—a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.
From the outset, our team seriously considered dismissal of all pending cases initiated by the OSC. However, we believed the people of Flint deserved expeditious action, despite the shortcomings of the OSC, and we worked to salvage whatever progress had been made. 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.
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.
Our career prosecutors and investigators have worked around the clock to conduct the kind of criminal investigation to which all citizens are entitled, regardless of their zip code. That begins with a commitment to obtain and review all evidence. By executing a series of search warrants, our investigators aggressively pursued an extraordinary amount of potential evidence not previously examined by law enforcement. This week, we completed the transfer into our possession millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation. Our team’s efforts have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint Water Crisis. We are now in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve and hold all responsible parties accountable.
Our team has already identified additional individuals of interest and new information relevant to the Flint Water Crisis. These investigative leads will be aggressively pursued. Additionally, we will evaluate criminal culpability for all Legionnaires deaths that occurred after the switch to the Flint River, which was never done by the OSC.
It is important to note that this voluntary dismissal by our team is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility. We are not precluded from refiling charges against the defendants listed below or adding new charges and additional defendants.
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. 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. Accordingly, our team will move forward unrestrained by political motivations, prior tactics, or opportunities for financial gain.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is keeping herself away from the Flint water crisis criminal cases, said she trusts the judgment of Hammoud and Worthy if they believe dropping the charges was the best course of action.
“I trust them and if this step is necessary for them to do a comprehensive and complete investigation, I am in absolute support," Nessel said. "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.”
State Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, is aghast at the development and the sheer amount of money wasted on lawyers during the past two years of legal proceedings.
“Let me be clear: I want 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," he said. "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 feels bad for Flint residents, who believe nobody will ever face justice for their roles in causing the water crisis.
"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,” he said.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver backs the decision to start over with the criminal cases and the "dogged determination" the new prosecution team is showing with the cases.
"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 what evidence they want you to have?" she said in a statement. "This is once again an entire administration's clear lack of respect for human life and common decency, another attempt to cover up what should have never happened to begin with."
Lyon's attorney, Chip Chamberlain, told the Associated Press that they feel "fantastic and vindicated" by the dismissal of the charges. He understands Lyon could face new charges, but he believes the new investigation "will yield no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing."