The Michigan attorney general’s office has dropped all eight criminal charges against former and current officials accused of neglectful behavior that led to the Flint drinking water crisis on Thursday. The office said that the decision arose from problems with the investigation and that, several years after the charges were filed, it may reopen the case against some or all of the previous defendants at a later time.
But according to the Detroit Free Press, Flint residents—who for months drank and bathed in dangerously lead-tainted water in one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history—have expressed a fear they will never see justice.
Some now-former defendants, including Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, faced charges as serious as manslaughter over inaction related to the deadly spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease that the prosecution linked to the crisis. A Flint public works director and emergency managers appointed to oversee the city were among others whose charges were dropped Thursday.
Other officials from the health department, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the city of Flint, along with two former Flint emergency managers, had already had their charges dismissed. Seven others pleaded no contest to misdemeanors and are expected to have their records wiped clean after cooperating with prosecutors. Fifteen people in total had been charged under the investigation.
According to a statement from the office of the new attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, prosecutors decided to dismiss the charges because of “immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories” of the original Flint crisis investigation, which was launched under the former attorney general, Republican Bill Schuette, with the special prosecutor Todd Flood. “After a complete evaluation, our concerns were validated,” the statement said.
The Flint crisis began in 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager, in an attempt to cut costs, switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron, with its water treated in Detroit, to the Flint River. The Department of Environmental Quality failed to require the necessary corrosion-control chemicals to deal with the lead pipes as part of the water treatment process, and the metal leached from the pipes into the water. But even as residents complained of strange smells and colors in their water, state and local officials insisted the water was safe.
In October 2015, Flint switched back to the Detroit water and the lead levels are now within the legally safe range, but residents still do not trust their water. According to the Free Press, work to replace Flint’s lead pipes continues to put the residents at risk of lead exposure. In March, the Supreme Court allowed two class-action lawsuits by Flint residents to move forward as they seek claims against local and state officials.