Attorney General Dana Nessel's office has dropped all criminal charges brought against eight officials allegedly involved in the Flint water crisis, vowing to go back and "conduct a full and complete investigation."
In annoucing the change of course Thursday, prosecutors now handling the case said they had "grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by" lawyers appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette to handle the case, "particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence."
The case spearheaded by Todd Flood resulted in charges against 13 current and former state and local officials. Charges were dropped against Nick Lyon, the former director of the Department of Health and Human Services, who faced a voluntary manslaughter count; other officials from the health department, two former Flint emergency managers and current or former employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Flint.
Here's the full statement from Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who are handling the prosecutions:
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.
Worthy and Hammoud also offered insight into their expanded investigation. They executed search warrants to pursue "potential evidence not previously examined by law enforcement," they say. They've additionally seized "millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices," including, as was reported earlier this month, the cell phone ofr former Governor Rick Snyder.
“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 [lawyers appointed by Schuette].
“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.
Some Flint residents are reportedly angered by the shift. Prosecutors handling the case are to host a community conversation in the city on Friday, June 28.