Nearly four years since the city of Flint declared a state of emergency over the state of its water – and three years after the first criminal charges were filed against government officials – prosecutors on Thursday dismissed all pending criminal cases, pledging to start the investigation from scratch.
Prosecutors said that they had grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories embraced by the former Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that oversaw the investigation, according to a press release issued by the Michigan Department of Attorney General. The OSC was appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The OSC entered into agreements that gave private law firms that were representing the accused a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement, according to the release.
“We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation,” said Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who are now leading the criminal cases.
Prosecutors noted in the press release that “the voluntary dismissal is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility.” Prosecutors are not precluded from refiling charges against the defendants in the future.
A community conversation in Flint has been scheduled for June 28, where Hammoud and Worthy will speak directly to the people of Flint.
Residents feel blindsided
Melissa Mays, 40, a Flint resident and founder of local advocacy group Water You Fighting For, told CNN that she first learned of the dismissal through a call from a New York Times reporter.
“I was horrified. I felt blindsided,” she said, “the way we saw the message delivered today is hurtful. It was retraumatizing.”
Mays said that her family is currently saving up for a water filtration system. “We have constant fear that this will never be fixed. It’s not fair. We didn’t ask to be poisoned,” she said.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said the dismissal gave her hope for restoring justice.
“I am happy to see that this case is being handled with the seriousness and dogged determination that it should have been handled with from the beginning,” Weaver said in a statement to CNN.
Weaver called the mishandling of legal evidence of the former prosecution team “an entire administration’s clear lack of respect for human life and common decency, another attempt to cover up what should have never happened to begin with.”
But many residents are frustrated. Monica Galloway, a member of the Flint City Council, told CNN that she was “appalled.”
“The lead impact on our children hasn’t even been realized, which means that there’s many unknowns for their future. They haven’t been made whole,” Galloway said.
“It causes me to believe that Gov. Snyder just got a get out of jail free card. The people that are responsible will be walking away free,” she said.
Still having to buy bottled water, longtime Flint resident Fortina Harris, 67, told CNN that he feels like there’s nothing he can do. “We’ve been dogged out, misused, abused and we still need to pay water bills and wash our bodies,” he said. “We don’t get any supplement. No discounts or nothing for buying water. We got to fend for our self.”
Mayor Weaver told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday that she understands why people are frustrated, though she is optimistic about the prosecutors’ announcement.
“We recognize that the wheels of justice move slowly,” she said. “But it’s like the attorney general said, ‘Justice delayed does not mean justice denied.’”
Weaver said that city has made progress on its water quality, but she is still recommending that residents stick with bottled and filtered water until scientists and health professionals sign off.
“I’m taking my lead from the health community and we’re going to always put health above profit,” she said.
CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.