No one will be held criminally responsible for the Flint water crisis after the Michigan Supreme Court declined to revive criminal charges against former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
In a statement released after the high court’s decision on Oct. 31, the Michigan Department of Attorney General said this was the last chance at holding public officials accountable for the crisis, which left nearly 100,000 Flint residents exposed to toxic levels of lead.
The state’s Flint Water Prosecution Team, formed by Attorney General Dana Nessel in 2019 and led by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Chief Deputy Attorney General Fadwa Hammoud, sought charges against Snyder and eight other former officials for their role in the crisis.
“This crisis killed people, and left others with injuries that will last a lifetime,” reads the Flint Water Prosecution Team’s statement. “Our hearts break for the People of Flint, those no longer with us, those left behind to mourn them, and it is the People of Flint who are once again the victims of decisions made by a few powerful people in Lansing.”
The crisis began to unfold in April 2014, after city officials switched Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water Authority to the Flint Water System. Corrosion in supply pipes caused lead to seep into the water, but even after Flint residents started to complain about the smell and color of the water, local and state officials insisted it met state standards.
Thousands of Flint residents whose health was impacted by the contaminated water filed a civil lawsuit against the state and other groups. The parties eventually settled the case for $626 million in 2021.
The state’s attempts to hold those involved criminally responsible, however, have not been successful.
Prosecutors used a one-man grand jury — a single judge who reviews evidence and decides charges without a preliminary exam — to indict Snyder and eight others, but the state Supreme Court dismissed the charges last December after ruling a one-man grand jury doesn’t have the authority to issue indictments. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the case in March, before the Supreme Court upheld its initial decision on Oct. 31.
Disappointed in the court’s ruling, the Flint Water Prosecution Team said it sought “every legal remedy available,” including bringing in experts on lead poisoning and Legionnaires’ disease, as well as examining every death that was connected to the city’s contaminated water.
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said in a statement that he’s “disheartened and frustrated that justice for the people of Flint has been denied once again.”
Under state statute, the evidence presented to a one-man grand jury has to remain sealed, but Nessel’s office said it will work with the Legislature to change the law.
In the meantime, Nessel’s office also said it will be releasing a report to the public that will detail efforts by the Flint Water Prosecution Team in the case. The report is expected to be released in 2024.