Michigan Prosecutors Dismiss All Criminal Charges In Flint Water Crisis, To Restart Investigation

June 13, 2019 - 2:08 pm

FLINT (WWJ) - Michigan prosecutors are dismissing all criminal charges against eight people in the Flint water scandal and restarting the investigation.

The reason: They say investigators had "immediate and grave concerns" about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the Office of Special Counsel, appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"Now comes the new Attorney General Dana Nessel saying, basically, that investigation was botched," reported WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick. "He did not consider all of the evidence and therefore all of the charges against either people including Nick Lyon, the former health director and the state's chief medical officer have been dismissed without prejudice, which means...they could be charged as a new investigation is now launched."

Flint's water was deemed undrinkable after it became contaminated when the struggling city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-cutting move. The corrosive water lacked adequate treatment and caused lead to leach from old pipes.

Lyon was accused of failing to quickly inform the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease during that time. 

Along with Lyon, the eight include former Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose, as well as Patrick Cook, Howard Croft, Darnell Earley, Nancy Peeler, Robert Scott and Eden Wells.

In a statement, Nessel stressed that this does not mean they're off the hook. 

“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable," Nessel said in a statement. 

“The depth and breadth of concern for a fair and just prosecution and justice for the people of Flint is precisely why I appointed and entrusted Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy to lead the Flint criminal cases. I trust them and if this step is necessary for them to do a comprehensive and complete investigation. I am in absolute support."

WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton said, as Michigan residents struggle to understand what's happening here, the AG will need to explain herself at a town hall planned for June 28. 

"Attorney General Dana Nessel's going to have to go to the people of Flint and tell they why we are not pursuing criminal charges as this time," Langton said. "And the way the press release and the legal meaning of dismissing the case without prejudice means is that, legally, they can be brought back." 

Anna Clark, author of the book "The Poisoned City" expects this development to be tough for Flint residents to swallow. 

"People in Flint want to see some accountability for what was clearly a manmade disaster," Clark said, speaking live on WWJ. "Actual choces that people made both caused and prolonge it."

WWJ's Sandra McNeill got reaction from Lyon's attorney, John Bursch.

"It has been crushing on him and his family, but he has borne that burden better than anybody could reasonably expect," Bursch said. "To be charged based on such faulty theories and nonexistent evidence, to be called basically a murderer -- that's what a manslaughter charge is -- he has been gracious and positive and forward looking throughout the entire experience."

Bursch said he doesn't expect that Nessel will charge his client again.

"I think it is saying that they are going to continue to look at the evidence and consider charges against new individuals," he said, "but if they thought that the charges against Director Lyon had any merit, there would have been no reason to dismiss them, especially after having gone through a two year process."

While Bursch said he hasn't spoken to Lyon yet, he hopes he will be "euphoric."