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Prosecutors dismiss all charges in Flint water scandal, probe to start over

Published: June 15, 2019
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Source: RT

Michigan’s attorney general has dropped all pending criminal charges related to the Flint water contamination crisis, opting to restart the investigation. No official has been held accountable for the scandal to date.

The office of Michigan AG Dana Nessel on Thursday dismissed charges filed by the previous state administration against eight individuals in connection to the crisis. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the state can reindict the same individuals in the future.

Flint suffered a major public utilities crisis between 2014 and 2015, when the city administration catastrophically botched a project to swap Flint’s municipal water source. The project, designed to cut costs for the nearly-bankrupt city, resulted in massive lead contamination that risked poisoning thousands of residents.

The eight defendants include former Michigan health director Nick Lyon, the highest-ranking official caught up in the prior investigation. Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to notify the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease – a severe form of pneumonia – in the Flint area around the time of the water crisis.

The indictment alleges two men died of the illness as a result of Lyon’s failure to act, and links the outbreak to Flint’s then-unsafe water supply.

A legal representative for Lyon said he feels “fantastic and vindicated” after Thursday’s decision, though he acknowledged that the former health director could still face charges as a result of the new investigation.

Some residents were less enthusiastic about Nessel’s decision to scrap the indictments. “Just wow. Drop the charges?”wrote one member of Project Flint, a local activist group. “How about add new ones in addition?” 

“It's amateur hour at the office of the Michigan Attorney General,” tweeted Charlie LeDuff, a reporter with Detroit Fox affiliate WJBK. “As I predicted, all criminal charges dropped today in #Flint poison water catastrophe.”

Prosecutors tasked with reviewing the case issued a statement on Thursday questioning the veracity of the first investigation, and explained their decision to start the inquiry anew.

"Our team of career prosecutors and investigators had immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by” the previous state administration, “particularly the pursuit of evidence,” they said in the statement.

While the prosecutors said they were being “mindful” of the expenditure of public resources in pursuit of the new probe, they added they could not give Flint residents “the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation.”  

Related Articles:

A judge on Monday ordered Michigan’s top health official, Nick Lyon, to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter charges in two deaths linked to the Flint water crisis.

Michigan’s attorney general has filed new, more serious charges of involuntary manslaughter against five officials in the Flint Water Crisis investigation, among them the head of Michigan’s health department. Heath chief Nick Lyon was charged with two felonies, involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, for failing to alert the public about an outbreak in Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area, according to AP

We’ve become all too inured over the last several years to seeing the obviously guilty walk away from one corporate or public policy crisis after another, with nary a slap on the wrist. Against that backdrop, I see some wee cause for optimism in yesterday’s news from Flint, Michigan, of all places– a place usually not synonymous with optimism, especially as it has recently endured its water crisis.

The prosecution of current and former state of Michigan employees for their role in Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis likely will face an early test over whether one of the most serious charges can even be levied against the middle- and lower-level government officials. All eight workers charged so far, five from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and three with the Department of Health and Human Services, face a misconduct in office charge — a felony that can carry a five-year prison term. The cases are in the early stages of prosecution. But there is no statute clearly defining official misconduct. Rather, it is a common law offense based on judicial decisions and a doctrine whose origins trace back centuries to England.

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