A judge on Tuesday dismissed charges against seven people for their role in the Flint water scandal that exposed tens of thousands of people in Michigan to dangerous levels of lead and left several dead.
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 officials of Flint and Michigan in a six-page order.
His ruling was expected after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled state prosecutors improperly used a one-man grand jury to issue indictments last year.
“Put simply, there are no valid charges,” Kelly said. “If the people ask for future charges against the defendants, they must follow one of the proper charging procedures outlined by the Supreme Court.”
In 2014, Flint managers removed the city from a regional water system and began using the Flint River to save money while building a new pipeline to Lake Huron. But the river water has not been treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. The lead came off the old pipes and contaminated the system for over a year.
Separately, Water has been blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which is usually spread through heating and cooling systems – former state health director Nick Lyon and former medical director Eden Wells have been charged with manslaughter in nine Legionnaires-related deaths. They were accused of failing to timely notify the Flint area of the outbreak.
Kelly, however, did not dismiss the cases with prejudice, meaning state prosecutors could refile the charges if they choose. State prosecutors have previously indicated they will continue to prosecute those responsible.
Although former Governor Snyder was also indicted in a proceeding declared invalid by the Supreme Court, Kelly’s decision does not affect him: he has only been charged with misdemeanors and his case is being handled by another judge.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Attorney General’s office, Dana Nessel, 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 Assistant Jarrod Agen; former Flint managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley; and Nancy Peeler, director of the health department.
In 2021, Genesee County Circuit Judge David Newblatt indicted the group without preliminary examination, allowing for the cross-examination of witnesses before trial. Appeals of Newblatt’s rulings were dismissed before the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the defense. Participating judges were unanimous that a judge cannot act as a one-man grand jury, with a judge writing in a separate opinion that prosecutors could not afford to “cut corners” in a matter of this magnitude.
Michigan prosecutors typically file felony charges in district court after a police investigation. The use of a single-judge grand jury was extremely rare, and was used primarily in Detroit and Flint to protect witnesses, especially in violent crimes, who could testify in private.
Prosecutors Fadwa Hammoud and Kym Worthy chose this route in the Flint Water investigation to hear evidence in secret and secure indictments against Snyder and others.
But the state Supreme Court said Michigan law was clear: A single-judge grand jury cannot issue indictments. The process had apparently never been challenged.
Separately, the state has agreed to pay $600 million as part of a $626 million settlement with Flint residents and homeowners who were harmed by lead-tainted water. Most of the money goes to children.
Flint in 2015 returned to a Southeast Michigan-based water system. Meanwhile, around 10,100 lead or steel water pipes had been replaced in homes last December.
Contributor: Associated Press
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