Michigan prosecuters drop charges in Flint water probe to start anew
Michigan’s attorney general dismissed all pending criminal cases related to the Flint water crisis, two of which were against former state-appointed city emergency managers.
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and the special prosecutor, Kym Worthy, made the announcement Thursday that all pending criminal cases brought by the former Office of Special Counsel had been dismissed without prejudice in order to conduct a new probe. The OSC was appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The pending criminal charges had named former emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley. Ambrose served as Flint’s EM from Jan. 13, 2015 through April 28, 2015. Earley was named EM in September 2013 and served until January 2015. Both were appointed by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Earley oversaw the decision to change the city's water source to the Flint River in April 2014. The switch triggered the city's water crisis. A March 13, 2014, order signed by Ambrose for a water main cut-in at the water plant cleared the way for the switch to the river, according to emails released previously by the state treasury. The duo are also accused of using false and misleading tactics to participate in the bond-financed Karegnondi Water Authority project.
Flint exited from state financial receivership on April 10, 2018, after seven years under state oversight.
Hammoud and Worthy said the Flint water crisis prosecution team will expand the investigation based on new evidence .
“Our team has already identified additional individuals of interest and new information relevant to the Flint Water Crisis,” Hammoud and Worthy said. “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.”
The 2014-15 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint region led to the deaths of at least 12 and sickened another 79 individuals.
The decision to drop the cases came over concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the OSC that that OSC, particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence. The Flint water crisis prosecution team found that 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.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver welcomed the development.
“I am happy to see that this case is being handled with the seriousness and dogged determination that it should have been handled with from the beginning,” Weaver said in a press release. “The residents of the city of Flint deserve justice. We deserve to have every single person involved investigated. There were millions of documents and a lot of devices that should have been turned over that would have aided in getting the justice that we seek.”
Former Michigan AG Schuette defended the OSC investigation in a tweet. “We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team,” Schuette tweeted. “Everything we did was for the people of Flint.”
Tens of millions of dollars in taxpayers' funds have been spent on the investigation and to pay the criminal defense bills of the state and city defendants. State records show the cost of prosecuting and defending state employees implicated in the Flint water crisis has topped $30.7 million. In total, the spending has topped $8.5 million for the Governor's Office, $8.1 million for the Department of Environmental Quality, $7.1 million for the Department of Health and Human Services and $7 million for the AG.
“Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a statement. "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."