In a surprising twist of events, prosecutors are dismissing all criminal charges against the eight people implicated in the water crisis scandal in Flint, Michigan. They do plan to relaunch the investigation. The water crisis has been documented as one of the worst environmental disasters caused by man ever in the history of the United States.
The defendants involved in the case include Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, who faced an involuntary manslaughter charge. He “allegedly” failed to warn Flint residents about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that occurred between 2014 and 2015. During that time, Flint residents were consuming inadequately treated water from the lead-contaminated Flint River. His negligence resulted in lead contamination in the city water.
In total, 15 state and local officials, including local politicians and even a member of the governor’s cabinet, had been accused by the State of Michigan for committing crimes as serious as involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors also seized the cellphone records of former Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, during the investigation.
He wasn’t charged with a crime although he was just as negligent as the others who were facing charges. Seven of the people involved have taken plea deals. The remaining eight suspects, which are mostly high-ranking state politicians, are awaiting new trials. Double jeopardy prevents the seven individuals who took plea deals from being retried for the same crime.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is directly under the attorney general, took over the investigation in January after the new attorney general was elected, said “all available evidence was not pursued” by the previous team of prosecutors.
“This week, we completed the transfer into our possession millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation,” Hammoud in conjunction with Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy announced in a statement on Thursday.
“Our team’s efforts have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint water crisis. We are now in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve and hold all responsible parties accountable.”
Flint residents don’t necessarily trust the attorney general’s office, especially given the fact that despite people died, perpetrators were barely given slaps on the wrist. There’s so much distrust of the government at both local and state levels that many residents still will not drink city water. And although the new administration wants to reassure the people of Flint that they will do a thorough investigation, residents don’t buy it.
“This is not justice,” said Melissa Mays, a Flint resident, and advocate for safe drinking water. “It just seems like a political ploy.” She added: “The only thing it tells me is our lives don’t matter.”
Mays’ response is appropriate. Children fared worst during the water crisis which started in 2014. And an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease killed 12 people.
The two truths in this debacle are that the people of Flint deserve more justice and restitution than they’ve received. The $30 million dollars spent on lawyers and other expenses to pursue an investigation should, rightfully, go to them.