Judge dismisses Flint water crisis charges against former Michigan officials
- Seven former government officials faced felony charges tied to the Flint water crisis
- An earlier Michigan Supreme Court decision ordered the dismissal of the charges
- The dismissal was a result of prosecutors incorrectly using a one-person grand jury
A circuit court judge on Tuesday dropped Flint water crisis-related felony criminal charges against seven former government officials.
Genesee Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Kelly dismissed charges in a six-page written order, calling the indictments “invalid” after a June Michigan Supreme Court ruling found that state prosecutors incorrectly used a one-person grand jury to indict defendants.
Michigan is one of three states that still use a one-person grand jury, a process by which a single appointed judge reviews evidence out of public view and decides on charges.
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Those originally charged include former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon; former MDHHS employee Nancy Peeler; former MDHHS medical executive Eden Wells; Jarrod Agen and Richard Baird, who were top aides for former Gov. Rick Snyder; and former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley.
Lyon and Wells were accused of the most serious crimes. Each faced nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, which is punishable by 15 years in prison. Agen and Baird faced perjury charges, which are also publishable by 15 years in prison.
Kelly cited the state Supreme Court’s order in her dismissal of the charges, stating the defendants are now “entitled to a preliminary hearing.”
The judge also noted that the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision binds the circuit court: “Because the one-person grand jury does not have the power to issue indictments, the indictments issued in the felony Flint water cases were void ab initio.”
“Therefore, anything arising out of the invalid indictments are irreconcilably tainted from inception,” Kelly wrote in her Tuesday decision.
State prosecutors could file the charges again since the judge did not dismiss the cases with prejudice. In a Tuesday statement, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said their team “will exhaust all available legal options to pursue this case.”
“The courts have once again sided in favor of well-connected, wealthy individuals with political power and influence instead of the families and children of Flint,” they said.
According to their statement, prosecutors said the one-person jury is a “prosecutorial tool that has been relied upon for decades” and was “historically upheld by the appellate courts in (Michigan jurisdictions) to bring charges against defendants of often-limited means.”
Republican Attorney General candidate Matt DePerno, who is running against Democrat AG Dana Nessel, issued a statement Tuesday saying, “the sad reality is that nobody in Flint will ever see justice as a result of the sheer incompetence of (Nessel).”
According to DePerno, a one-person grand jury does not allow fair notice of any court proceeding so the parties involved can appear to defend their rights. He also noted that the defendants still do not know what evidence was presented to the one-person grand jury that resulted in their charges.
DePerno said if Nessel could not answer why prosecutors incorrectly used the one-man grand jury and explain other decisions regarding the case, “she should resign.”
On Tuesday, Lyon’s attorneys stated that the prosecution used “unlawful processes to investigate crimes that never occurred.”
“For over six years, the prosecution has ignored what actually happened and, instead, pursued unsupported claims and legal theories,” they said.
The defendants’ attorneys objected to using a one-man jury “from the start,” said Randall Levine, an attorney for Baird, in a statement. He added that prosecutors “deliberately chose to use this archaic statute to proceed against Baird in secrecy, hoping to deny him a right to preliminary examination.
“The defense attorneys worked tirelessly and were able to bring the matter before the Michigan Supreme Court, which found these indictments were invalid as the one-man grand jury acted without authority to issue them.”
Kelly’s ruling “validates that this case was always a political prosecution, with the phony indictment of Agen only secured through illegitimate and unethical means,” said Charles Spies, counsel to Agen.
“We appreciate the multiple judges that have ruled against Attorney General Nessel’s failed train wreck of a case against her political opponents,” Spies said in a statement to Bridge.
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