A judge dismissed charges Tuesday against seven people for their role in the Flint water scandal that exposed tens of thousands in Michigan to dangerous levels of lead and caused several deaths.
Michigan Circuit Judge Elizabeth Kelly dismissed felony charges against former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, a top aide to former Gov. Rick Snyder, and other former Flint and Michigan officials in a six-page order.
Her ruling was expected after the Michigan Supreme Court said state prosecutors incorrectly used a one-man grand jury to issue indictments last year.
“Simply put, there are no valid charges,” Kelly said. “If the People seek future charges against Defendants, they must follow one of the proper charging procedures outlined by the Supreme Court.”
In 2014, Flint managers took the city out of a regional water system and began using the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. But the river water wasn’t treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. Lead broke off from old pipes and contaminated the system for more than a year.
Separately, the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which typically spreads through heating and cooling systems — both former state health director Nick Lyon and former chief medical executive Eden Wells were charged with involuntary manslaughter in nine deaths linked to Legionnaires’. They were accused of failing to timely warn the Flint area about the outbreak.
Kelly, however, did not dismiss the cases with prejudice, meaning state prosecutors could file the charges again if they choose to. State prosecutors have previously indicated they will continue to seek charges against the officials.
Although former governor Snyder was also indicted in a process declared invalid by the Supreme Court, Kelly’s decision doesn’t affect him: he was only charged with misdemeanors and his case is being handled by a different judge.
A spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Besides Lyon and Wells, charges were dismissed against Snyder’s longtime fixer in state government, Rich Baird; former senior aide Jarrod Agen; former Flint managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley; and Nancy Peeler, a health department manager.
In 2021, Genesee County Circuit Judge David Newblatt charged the group without a preliminary examination, which allows for cross-examination of witnesses before trial. Appeals to Newblatt’s decisions were rejected before the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the defense. The participating justices were unanimous in saying a judge cannot act as a one-man grand jury, with one justice writing in a separate opinion that prosecutors could not afford to “cut corners” in a case of this magnitude.
More:Michigan Supreme Court: Judge erred in Flint water crisis indictments, one-man grand jury
Prosecutors in Michigan typically file felony charges in District Court after a police investigation. The use of a one-judge grand jury was extremely rare and was mostly utilized in Detroit and Flint to protect witnesses, especially in violent crimes, who could testify in private.
Prosecutors Fadwa Hammoud and Kym Worthy chose that path in the Flint water probe to hear evidence in secret and get indictments against Snyder and others.
But the state Supreme Court said Michigan law is clear: A one-judge grand jury can’t issue indictments. The process apparently had never been challenged.
Separately, the state agreed to pay $600 million as part of a $626 million settlement with Flint residents and property owners who were harmed by lead-tainted water. Most of the money is going to children.
Flint in 2015 returned to a water system based in southeastern Michigan. Meanwhile, roughly 10,100 lead or steel water lines had been replaced at homes by last December.
Contributing: Associated Press
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