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Flint prosecutors: Six-year anniversary won't stop pursuit of justice

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The prosecutors in the Flint water crisis investigation promised Friday that criminal charges are still coming in the long-stalled probe and that the criminal statute of limitations and the coronavirus pandemic will not stop them.

In a joint statement by Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym  Worthy, they said the people of Flint are going to get justice.

Hammoud and Worthy said more than a week ahead of the six-year anniversary of the water source switch in Flint that they wanted to "correct the misconception that April 25, 2020 is the deadline to bring charges against those who may be criminally liable" to allay concerns among the public that the case is over.

Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud speaks during a community meeting with Flint water prosecutors at UAW Local 659 on Friday, June 28, 2019, in Flint.

Michigan criminal statute of limitations law sets the limit at six years for misdemeanors and six to 10 years for most felonies.

"Criminal statutes of limitations vary depending on the offense and the date of the alleged criminal act," according to Hammoud and Worthy's statement. "Though we cannot comment on the specifics of our investigation, we remain on track, and we are delivering on our commitment to the people of Flint."

“As we approach six years since the water switch in Flint, we must remember the ongoing struggle of the people of Flint, and their resiliency in the face of a man-made disaster that will span generations. But they did not volunteer to serve as a cautionary tale of government gone wrong. This fate was imposed on them by a series of actions and inactions that created the historic injustice of the Flint Water Crisis.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel last year ordered a new review and all criminal charges dismissed in the investigation, citing new evidence, drawn-out preliminary examinations, what she considered cushy plea deals and the political timing of charges. Former special prosecutor Todd Flood and his team — appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette — have defended their handling of the investigation before they either resigned or were let go.

Genesee County judges sent former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells to trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges. Lyon's preliminary examination lasted 11 months while Wells' took 14 months. 

After the November election, Flood, a private attorney who also was a former assistant Wayne County prosecutor, pleaded down felonies to 90-day misdemeanors for some defendants, Nessel said, which also raised concerns. The Flood team has argued that plea deals are often used to gather more evidence and pursue higher-ranking officials in investigations.

Roughly $9.5 million had been spent on the Flint criminal prosecution up until March 31, much of that going directly to Flood’s law firm that hired experts and investigators, according to the Attorney General’s office. The state also paid for the legal defense of its charged employees. Nessel said she expects future prosecutorial efforts to cost much less and proceed more quickly.

Nessel is not involved in the Flint criminal prosecutions. She decided to handle the civil lawsuits against the state stemming from the lead contamination of the city's water and the Legionnaires' disease cases and deaths.

"From the outset, our team committed to a complete investigation of the Flint Water Crisis, using all investigative means at our disposal," the Hammoud and Worthy statement read. "We committed to professional prosecution of anyone criminally responsible for this man-made crisis and the resulting death, injury and trauma experienced by the people of Flint. Despite the challenges posed to our state by the COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of emergency will not prevent us from pursuing justice."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming