AG office drops Flint criminal charges against Lyon, others, reboots investigation

Water tower of Flint | iStockphoto
Updated 3:47 p.m., 5:05 p.m., 7:55 p.m. with comments from Neeley, Schuette, Whitmer, corrected headline

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office announced today that she has dismissed all pending criminal cases in the state’s criminal investigation of the Flint water crisis, effectively rebooting what it says will be a “full and complete investigation” going forward.

Attorney General Dana Nessel
Dana Nessel after a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Feb. 19, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who was put in charge of the investigation after former Special Prosecutor Todd Flood was removed, stressed in a statement that the decision wasn’t a determination of guilt or innocence. They said it was an opportunity to restart a probe they saw as deeply flawed from its beginning under Nessel’s predecessor, Bill Schuette.

“From the outset, our team seriously considered dismissal of all pending cases initiated by the OSC. However, we believed the people of Flint deserved expeditious action, despite the shortcomings of the OSC, and we worked to salvage whatever progress had been made,” Hammoud and Worthy said in a statement. “It is important to note that this voluntary dismissal by our team is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility.”

Fadwa Hammoud

Those for whom charges have been dropped include former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley; Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) official Patrick Cook; former Flint city employee Howard Croft; former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) director Nicolas Lyon; MDHHS officials Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott; and MDHHS advisory physician Eden Wells, the state’s former chief medical executive.

The Detroit News reported Thursday that Lyon’s attorney, Chip Chamberlain, said the former MDHHS head “feels fantastic and grateful and vindicated,” and that he doesn’t believe the charges against Lyon will be re-filed “Because there wasn’t the evidence to support the cases to begin with.”

The investigation was originally opened under an Office of Special Counsel (OSC) appointed by Schuette. In Thursday’s statement, Hammoud and Worthy expressed “grave concerns” about the work conducted by the OSC.

Nick Lyon

“Legitimate criminal prosecutions require complete investigations,” Hammoud and Worthy said. “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 embraced by the OSC, particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence.

“After a complete evaluation, our concerns were validated. Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all available evidence was not pursued.”

The two prosecutors also accused the OSC of being unduly lenient in agreements over what information would be turned over to the office by state agencies.

However, Schuette, who has kept a low profile since losing his gubernatorial bid last year to now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, fired off a series of tweets defending the investigation.

“We had an experienced, aggressive and hard-driving team. Everything we did was for the people of Flint,” the Republican tweeted.

Flint residents and officials have long complained about the length and cost of the investigation, especially in light of the lack of formal convictions.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

“I want to see people behind bars,” said state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) in a statement. “Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city. … The people of Flint believe that they will never see justice, and sadly, so far they’ve been proven right. I hope and expect that this will not be the case for much longer.”

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), who announced a Flint mayoral run in April, said in a statement that “at this point we’re not talking in weeks or months but in years that have been lost, not in hundreds or thousands, but in millions of dollars that have been wasted. … I’m not going to rest until everyone involved is held accountable, and justice is truly served. I and the residents of Flint truly hope the Attorney General’s office will finally join us in this fight.”*

The attorney general’s office said that “there will be no response to any media inquiries until after Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy have had an opportunity to speak directly to the people of Flint.”

Todd Flood

Hammoud and Worthy said in the statement they “are now in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve and hold all responsible parties accountable,” and that their “team has already identified additional individuals of interest and new information relevant to the Flint Water Crisis.”

In March, an attorney asked a judge to block Nessel’s office entirely from the civil cases surrounding the Flint water crisis, on the basis that the same state attorneys representing state officials in one Flint-related civil case were representing Flint residents in another.

After former Special Prosecutor Flood was fired in May, Hammoud said  that “discovery was not fully and properly pursued from the onset of this investigation.”

Earlier in June, former Gov. Rick Snyder’s former state-issued cell phone and iPad were seized by the Attorney General’s office as part of the Flint investigation.

Speaking to reporters Thursday Whitmer weighed in on the announcement that the charges would be dropped, saying she “[believes] the Attorney General is going to be the best person to get justice for the people of Flint” and that she trusts that Nessel is “making decisions that are in the interests of the people.”*

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former associate editor of the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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