(CN) – Michigan prosecutors have dropped eight criminal cases and relaunched a probe into the Flint water crisis because they say the investigative body appointed by former Governor Rick Snyder’s attorney general kept crucial evidence away from law enforcement officials.
The investigation into the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint coincided with the lead contamination of the city’s water system. At least 12 people died and 79 people fell ill. Before Thursday, former Department of Health and Human Services Director Nicolas Lyon, the highest ranking official charged, and former chief medical executive Eden Wells were set to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.
In a joint statement Thursday, Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the Office of Special Counsel appointed by then-Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette had failed to make use of all the available evidence. A fresh look uncovered documents that law enforcement had never seen, according to the state attorney general’s office.
“This week, we completed the transfer into our possession of millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation. Our team’s efforts have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint water crisis,” the joint statement says.
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said he was disappointed that justice was “delayed and denied” and that he wants those who were responsible for the crisis to go to prison.
“Months of investigation have turned into years, and the only thing to show for it is a bunch of lawyers who have gotten rich off the taxpayers’ dime. The people of Flint believe that they will never see justice, and sadly, so far they’ve been proven right,” Ananich said in a statement.
Though the attorney general’s office said the investigation was starting over, Lyon’s criminal defense attorney Chip Chamberlain framed the decision as a victory for his client. He said Lyon is “elated and grateful,” and the case never had any “merit to begin with.”
“This ends the matter as far as we’re concerned,” Chamberlain said in a phone interview. “There is no evidence that he committed a crime.”
The attorney general’s office said that it would not comment until Hammoud and Worthy had spoken to the people of Flint at a community meeting on June 28. Dismissal of the criminal cases does not prevent prosecutors from refiling charges against defendants or naming new criminal defendants, the office said. But prosecutors acknowledged that justice for the citizens of Flint would be put on hold, though not indefinitely.
“We recognize the only acceptable remedy is the vigorous pursuit of justice, which demands an uncompromising investigation of the Flint water crisis and professional prosecution of all those criminally culpable,” Hammoud and Worthy said.
The state also dropped criminal charges against former emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water specialist Patrick Cook, former Flint Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft, and Department of Health and Human Services officials Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel appointed Hammoud and Worth to head the probe into the Flint cases and said she supports the decision to dismiss.
“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” Nessel said in a statement.