Sunday, August 7, 2022

Explainer: Years later, the Flint Water Court battle continues

DETROIT ( Associated Press) — Michigan officials have long vowed to criminally hold key officials responsible for lead contamination and health problems resulting from catastrophic water switches. In Flint in 2014.

There isn’t much to show after eight years.

Latest: An Extraordinary Reprimand Tuesday from the state’s Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed the indictment against former Gov. Rick Snyder and eight others.

The attorney general’s office is promising to move forward, though hurdles remain as new charges pursue, including disputes over the age and documents of any alleged offenses that could take years to resolve.

Solicitor General Fadwa Hammood, who has led the investigation since 2019, said he was “committed to look into the process.”

A look at where things stand:

What happened in the Supreme Court?

The court ruled 6–0 that a judge hearing evidence in secret while sitting as an individual grand jury had no authority to issue an indictment, compared to closed-door justice in the Middle Ages.

The method is so unusual in Michigan that the court said it was never explicitly challenged. Prosecutors usually file charges, then lock horns with defense attorneys before a judge who decides whether there is enough evidence to go to trial.

Snyder, a Republican, faced indictment for willful dereliction of duty. Flint managers appointed by him tapped the Flint River for water in 2014, while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was under construction. Lead from the city’s old pipes infected the system for over a year as the corrosive water was not properly treated.

Nick Lyon, the director of Snyder’s Department of Health, and Dr. Eden Wells, former Michigan chief medical officer, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for nine deaths related to Legionnaires’ disease. Experts say Flint’s water may lack enough chlorine to fight bacteria.

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Can new charges be filed?

Yes, in a more traditional way, but defense attorneys will again challenge them aggressively.

There is a six-year deadline for filing misdemeanors, such as two counts against Snyder and two counts against former Flint public works chief Howard Croft. Snyder acknowledged in 2015 that Flint had a dangerous lead problem and that nearly seven years have passed since the city switched back to a regional water system.

“It’s going to be a problem for many of these lawsuits,” said attorney John Bursch, a member of Lyon’s legal team.

Lyon and Wales were accused of failing to alert the public in time about the Legionnaires’ outbreak. They deny wrongdoing. Deaths fall within the 10-year limit for registering a felony.

Lyon, referring to Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said on Tuesday, “To allow politicians to act in their own interests – to allow government employees to sacrifice their roles in good faith in difficult situations is a big deal.” injustice.”

Are There Other Sticky Issues?:

Millions of documents – and millions of dollars.

When Nessel staff took over the investigation of the Flint waters, they confiscated Snyder-era records from the state government, including apparently confidential documents and papers protected by attorney-client privilege.

Defense lawyers insisted that the records should have been examined by an independent team. They’ve won in two courtrooms so far, though prosecutors claim it could cost more than $30 million and take years to look through the documents, depending on the numbers.

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Cost and time are irrelevant, Lyon’s lawyers said in opposition to an appeal pending in the state’s Supreme Court.

Attorney Ronald Deward wrote, “No time or money is allowed to prosecute the possession and use of privileged material against a criminal defendant.”

Has anyone been convicted?

The criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis began in 2016 under then-Attorney General Bill Schuett and Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. No one has been sentenced to jail.

Seven men pleaded no contest to the misdemeanors, which were eventually removed from their records. These included Lian Shector Smith, who was the head of the state’s drinking water department, and another prominent water expert, Stephen Bush.

Flood insisted he was winning cooperation from key witnesses and moving on to the big names, but that was shut down after Nessel took over in 2019.

Shector Smith was the only state employee to be fired because of what happened in Flint. But an arbitrator said he was wrongfully dismissed in a rush to find a “public scapegoat” and the state agreed to pay him $300,000.

According to records, Bush was paid $522,000 while on vacation before returning to work last November.

Detroit pastor and civil rights activist Charles Williams II said accountability is overdue in Flint.

Families in the majority-Black City, he said, deserve “truth and justice.”

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Nation World News Desk
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