After the years Flint, Mich., residents spent living without a drop of safe water from their taps and the millions of dollars spent on a probe to bring those responsible to justice, state prosecutors Thursday announced they were throwing the whole case out — and starting all over.
Despite assurances from Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy that investigators are still committed to working “to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve,” residents were stunned at the turn of events, the Associated Press reports.
“It feels kind of degrading,” Flint activist LeeAnne Walters told the AP, “like all that we went through doesn’t matter. Our city was poisoned, my children have health issues, and the people responsible just had all the charges dropped against them.”
As another Flint water activist told the New York Times:
“My heart breaks for the families that have lost loved ones,” said Melissa Mays, a Flint resident and water activist. “This is not justice for them. It just seems like a political ploy.” She added: “The only thing it tells me is our lives don’t matter.”
Eight current and former officials had faced criminal charges for their alleged roles in creating the Flint water crisis.
The years-long crisis began in 2014 when the state-appointed city manager decided to change Flint’s water source to the Flint River to save money. But the river water was not treated so that it would not corrode the city’s lead pipes, thus allowing toxic lead to leach into the people’s water supply. Despite years of complaints from residents about the smell and taste of their drinking water, state and local officials did nothing.
As a result, the AP recounts, by fall 2015:
a doctor reported high levels of lead in children, which can cause brain damage.
Some experts also have linked the water to Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs. People can get sick if they inhale mist or vapor, typically from cooling systems.
Flint’s water no longer comes from the river and has significantly improved, but some residents are so distrustful that they continue to use bottled water.
In announcing the dismissal of all charges against the eight officials on Thursday, Hammoud and Worthy blamed oversights by the prosecution team that was in charge of the case prior to their taking over in January. As the Times explained:
Among the officials whose charges were dropped: the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a state epidemiologist, a former Flint public works director and emergency managers who had been appointed to oversee the city. Some defendants had faced charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter.
“Legitimate criminal prosecutions require complete investigations. Upon assuming responsibility of this case, our team of career prosecutors and investigators had immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories,” Ms. Hammoud and Ms. Worthy said in a statement.
Hammoud and Worthy were appointed to the case after the election of Michigan’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, who took office in January. Nessel sought to assure Flint residents that they shouldn’t feel that they won’t get justice.
“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied,” Nessel told the Times.
Somehow I have a feeling this all seems hollow to the long-suffering residents of Flint.