Judge dismisses Flint water crisis cases against ex-officials after Supreme Court ruling




  • In US
  • 2022-10-04 17:19:53Z
  • By Detroit Free Press

A circuit court judge on Tuesday dismissed charges against former state and Flint officials for their roles in the water crisis that gripped the city beginning in 2014. The result had been a likely outcome after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in June that state prosecutors incorrectly used a one-man grand jury to issue indictments last year.

Felony charges against former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former MDHHS employee Nancy Peeler, Rich Baird, a top aide to former Gov. Rick Snyder and other former officials were dismissed by Genesee Circuit Judge Elizabeth Kelly in a written order.

Kelly cited the Supreme Court order in dismissing the cases, issuing a six-page order Tuesday. Kelly had previously canceled a hearing on the cases, instead opting to issue a written order. In total, cases for seven former state and Flint officials were dismissed.

"If the People seek future charges against Defendants, they must follow one of the proper charging procedures outlined by the Supreme Court," Kelly wrote.

Kelly, however, did not dismiss the cases with prejudice, meaning state prosecutors could file the charges again if they choose to. State prosecutors, led by Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, have previously indicated they will continue to seek charges against the officials.

A spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ex-state health director Nick Lyon exits after making an appearance on a video arraignment at the Genesee County Jail in Flint on January 14, 2021, on new Flint Water Crisis charges.
Ex-state health director Nick Lyon exits after making an appearance on a video arraignment at the Genesee County Jail in Flint on January 14, 2021, on new Flint Water Crisis charges.  

In 2021, Genesee County Circuit Judge David Newblatt charged the group without a preliminary examination, which allows for cross-examination of witnesses before trial. Appeals to Newblatt's decisions were rejected before the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the defense. The participating justices were unanimous in saying a judge cannot act as a one-man grand jury, with one justice writing in a separate opinion that prosecutors could not afford to "cut corners" in a case of this magnitude.

More:Michigan Supreme Court: Judge erred in Flint water crisis indictments, one-man grand jury

The Supreme Court's decision stymied prosecutor efforts, although Hammoud and Nessel had vowed to continue pursuing charges. In a response to a motion for dismissal filed by Jarrod Agen, Snyder's former chief of staff who was charged with felony perjury, prosecutors wrote the defense was conflating the dismissal of the indictments brought by Newblatt as "the dismissal of a case in its entirety."

Nessel, after taking office in 2019, tossed out previous charges brought forward by her predecessor, Attorney General Bill Schuette, relaunching an expanded probe. At the time, Nessel said in a statement to Flint residents, "justice delayed is not always justice denied."

The Flint water crisis started in 2014 when the city switched water sources and lead, a neurotoxin particularly dangerous to children, leached into the city's water supply. As the city struggled with water quality, it also saw an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease and deaths.

Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was charged with nine felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty.

Peeler, who was an early childhood health section manager at MDHHS, was charged with two felony counts of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty.

Baird, who was considered Snyder's right-hand man as a senior adviser, was charged with four separate felony counts - one of perjury, one of misconduct in office, one of obstruction of justice and one of extortion.

Others who had their felony charges dismissed Tuesday include Agen, former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Early and former MDHHS medical executive Dr. Eden Wells.

This story will be updated.

Contact Arpan Lobo: alobo@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Judge dismisses Flint water crisis cases against ex-officials

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