FLINT (WJRT) (6/13/2019) - Will the people who caused the Flint water crisis ever see justice?
That is the question Flint's elected state officials asked hours after the Michigan Attorney General's Office dismissed all criminal charges against eight people, deciding instead to start over with a new investigation.
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, a Democrat, is disappointed about the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on attorneys and years of court litigation wasted by dropping the charges.
“We’ve been told to wait, to be patient, that justice was coming, but where is that justice today?" he said. "My city is losing faith in our government, and that distrust was justified today when it once again failed them so miserably."
Neeley said the Flint community has suffered greatly due to the water crisis and he demands justice for the people who caused it.
"I’m not going to rest until everyone involved is held accountable and justice is truly served," he said. "I and the residents of Flint truly hope the Attorney General’s office will finally join us in this fight.”
State Sen. Jim Ananich, also a Democrat, feels much the same way.
"The people of Flint believe that they will never see justice, and sadly, so far they’ve been proven right," he said. "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.”
Thursday's action means the following defendants are free of all charges filed against them:
-- Former Michigan Department of Health and Human Service Director Nick Lyon. He is the highest ranking official to face charges.
-- Former Michigan Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells.
-- Former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley.
-- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official Patrick Cook.
-- Former Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft.
-- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials Robert Scott and Nancy Peeler.
They had been charged with involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty. Lyon and Wells had their cases bound over to trial, although both were actively appealing those decisions.
All the charges against them were dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors can file them again later -- and possibly add more counts. More people who weren't facing charges also could be implicated later.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who are leading the Flint water criminal prosecutions under Attorney General Dana Nessel, are starting a new investigation from scratch.
They decided the investigative work done under former Attorney General Bill Schuette gave them "immediate and grave concerns" -- so bad that they couldn't move forward without re-launching the investigation.
Schuette appointed attorney Todd Flood as a special prosecutor, who oversaw the entire investigation until Schuette left office on Jan. 1. Hammoud and Worthy claim that Flood didn't pursue all the evidence, leaving them a "flawed foundation" on which to continue prosecuting the cases.
In a series of tweets on Thursday afternoon, Schuette defended his team's work and the charges they brought.
"During my tenure as Attorney General, the department initiated three major investigations: Nassar, the Catholic Church and the Flint Water Crisis. All three were staffed and conducted with the highest level of professionalism and expertise," he wrote.
Schuette believes Flood's investigative did well at pursuing justice for everyone affected by the Flint water crisis.
"We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team," he wrote. "Everything we did was for the people of Flint."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver support the decision to start over, as long as that's the right course to get justice.
"We've been waiting for justice for quite some time and justice is what we deserve," she said. "For them to say we need to do a full investigation and not just take what was handed to them is a good thing."
Congressman Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint, just wants to see the people who caused the water crisis held accountable -- no matter how prosecutors have to get there.
“The Attorney General’s office should aggressively continue its investigations and pursue criminal charges, supported by the facts and evidence, against any individual criminally responsible," he said.
Attorney Trachelle Young represents thousands of clients in a civil lawsuit filed against the city, state and former Gov. Rick Snyder, among others. She's encouraged by the news that the prosecution team is dismissing all pending criminal cases and expanding their investigation based on new evidence.
"The net is going to be cast wider and it's going to a much stronger net, and maybe they'll catch the big fish rather than the guppies," Young said.
The decision to drop all criminal charges won't affect the civil litigation currently under way, she said, "but it doesn't hurt our civil case either."