DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors dropped all criminal charges Thursday against eight people in the Flint water crisis and pledged to start from scratch the investigation into one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.
The stunning decision comes more than three years — and millions of dollars — after authorities began examining the roots of a scandal that left Flint’s water system tainted with lead. Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who took control of the investigation in January after the election of a new attorney general, said “all available evidence was not pursued” by a 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 and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
“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,” they said.
Hammoud’s team recently used search warrants to get state-owned mobile devices of former Gov. Rick Snyder and 66 other people from storage.
Among those who had charges dismissed: Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, who was accused of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly failing to timely alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when Flint was drawing improperly treated water from the Flint River in 2014-15.
Lyon’s attorney, Chip Chamberlain, said they “feel fantastic and vindicated.”
Although prosecutors cautioned that Lyon and others could be charged again, Chamberlain said he’s not worried.
“We’re confident that a just and fair investigation, done properly, will yield no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing,” Chamberlain said.
While waiting for a new pipeline to bring water from Lake Huron, the majority-black city of 100,000 pulled water from a river without treating it to reduce corrosive effects on old pipes. Lead infected the distribution system in a community where 41% of residents are classified by the government as living in poverty.