Prosecutors seek to keep charges alive in Flint water crisis

Jul 1, 2022, 4:53 AM | Updated: 7:28 pm
FILE - The Flint water plant tower is seen, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Flint, Mich. A Michigan Supr...

FILE - The Flint water plant tower is seen, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Flint, Mich. A Michigan Supreme Court order that charges related to the Flint water scandal against former Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and seven other people must be dismissed is the latest development in the crisis that started in 2014. That was when the city began taking water from the Flint River without treating it properly, resulting in lead contamination. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors signaled Friday that they would pursue the same charges against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and eight others in the Flint water crisis, just a few days after the state Supreme Court said indictments must be dismissed.

The attorney general’s office responded by asking two Flint-area judges to simply turn the indictments into common criminal complaints and let the charges proceed.

That step, outlined in court filings in Genesee County, likely will face vigorous opposition by defense lawyers.

“The motion filed by the solicitor general is nothing short of ridiculous,” said Chip Chamberlain, attorney for former state health director Nick Lyon.

“The Michigan Supreme Court made itself clear: Mr. Lyon’s case is to be dismissed — period,” Chamberlain said.

Nine people were indicted in 2021, including Snyder, who faced two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty.

In 2014, Flint managers appointed by Snyder took the city out of a regional water system and began using the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. But the river water wasn’t treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. Lead broke off from old pipes and contaminated the city’s system for more than a year.

Lyon’s lawyers led the challenge that resulted in a unanimous Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that a judge sitting as a one-person grand jury had no power under Michigan law to return indictments.

The attorney general’s office hasn’t explained why it chose that extremely unusual route rather than a criminal complaint.

Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud insists the Supreme Court’s opinion was only about procedure. She said anyone facing felonies would now be entitled to hearings to challenge evidence.

“The Supreme Court did not question the merit of our cases, nor evaluate the evidence in these proceedings. … These motions confirm our commitment to keep fighting for the people of Flint,” Hammoud said in a written statement.

Snyder attorney Brian Lennon said the interpretation was flawed.

“How can the Genesee County courts simply convert invalid and illegally obtained indictments into valid complaints?” Lennon said. “What part of the word ‘dismissed’ does she and prosecutor (Kym) Worthy refuse to understand?”

Lyon and former state medical executive Eden Wells were charged with involuntary manslaughter under a theory that they failed to timely notify the public about a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak tied to the Flint River.

Prosecutors still face other hurdles, including the statute of limitations on some charges and the seizure of millions of pages of Snyder administration documents that were confidential.

Snyder, a Republican, left office in 2019.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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Prosecutors seek to keep charges alive in Flint water crisis