AG Nessel asks Worthy to take over Flint water cases

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy

Detroit — Attorney General Dana Nessel announced on Friday that she is asking Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to take over as the special prosecutor in charge of Flint's water crisis cases.

The announcement came Friday amid speculation that Special Prosecutor Todd Flood was potentially being replaced by the county prosecutor.

Nessel and Worthy are described as close friends and former colleagues at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, where Flood also worked before starting his own private firm.

“I have total confidence in Prosecutor Worthy and her office,” Nessel said in a statement, “and there is no one whose opinion I value more when it comes to the complexity and importance of these cases. We are hoping to have a response from Prosecutor Worthy regarding acceptance of these cases soon.”

Worthy's office issued a comment in response Friday afternoon that didn't immediately commit the prosecutor to the post but noted Worthy would review the cases. 

“Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to do an independent evaluation of the Flint water criminal cases. A decision will be made at a later time addressing what entity will continue these prosecutions," the statement read.

"The WCPO ... will provide the attorney general with a full report when this assessment is completed. It is important to remember that there is a lot of material to review as these investigations are almost three years old.”

When asked to clarify the attorney general's statement, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Nessel, said that: "if Worthy says yes, then Flood is no longer on the case."

The development was anticipated following Nessel's victory in November's election after she had criticized some aspects of former Attorney Bill Schuette's prosecution.

Sources say that Flood offered his resignation in a letter addressed to Nessel after she won the election, but she had not officially accepted it given the sensitive nature of the situation.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Friday that Nessel has the right to replace anyone, but the mayor also doesn’t want to see the investigation and prosecution slowed down.

“I want accountability for what has happened in the city of Flint, and that is what I have talked about,” she said. “There’s been a lot of hype around charges being pressed, but no one being held accountable still.”

Weaver noted that Flood “endeared” himself with the residents and public officials of Flint during his time as special prosecutor.

"I want some accountability because we deserve that,” Weaver said.

Flood won key preliminary hearings to bind over two of former Gov. Rick Snyder's officials for trial on involuntary manslaughter charges and other guilty pleas. But he has also been criticized, particularly by officials in the Snyder administration, for taking months to a year for several of the preliminary exams.

Flood, who could not be reached for comment Friday, and his team are scheduled to appear in court on Monday for another preliminary exam hearing for two former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water regulators facing trial.

Schuette appointed Flood, a former prosecutor and retired head of the Detroit FBI, to lead the investigation into the Flint water crisis as special counsel in January 2016. He was joined by Andy Arena, also a former leader in the Detroit FBI office. 

Flood has brought charges against 15 current and former Flint and state officials, including involuntary manslaughter charges against the state's former director of the Michigan Health and Human Services department, Nick Lyon, and the state's former chief medical officer, Eden Wells. The charges are in connection with a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak blamed for the deaths of 12 people in 2014 and 2015 and believed to be linked to the Flint water crisis.

"It is refreshing to have an attorney general take such serious and immediate action to ensure the Flint community receives the support and resources they deserve," said state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, of the decision by Nessel to involve Worthy.

“The people of Flint undoubtedly suffered enough at the hands of the previous administration.”

The heart of the city's water crisis occurred from April 2014 to October 2015 when Flint's water source was switched to the Flint River, whose corrosive water leached lead from the city's aging service lines and into drinking water. The move was made under the supervision of state-appointed emergency managers.

Snyder didn't declare a state of emergency about the crisis until early January 2016, nearly three months after returning Flint to the Detroit area water system. The governor warned the public about the Flint area Legionnaires' outbreak a little more than a week later in mid-January 2016.

Lyon and Wells have both been bound over on their charges and will proceed to trial. Six others originally charged have taken plea deals by promising to cooperate with the ongoing investigation and court case.  

Snyder kept Lyon and Wells in their positions even after they were bound over to circuit court, signaling to many his dissatisfaction with Schuette's investigation and prosecution.

In December, Wells was hired for a $180,000-a-year civil service "advisory physician" job, a position that makes it difficult for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fire her. 

Snyder's lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, said Schuette's charges against Lyon and Wells were politically motivated and "gross abuse of power" while running against Schuette in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year.

Schuette had defended the investigation, arguing that his most politically advantageous option would have been to do nothing in relation to the water crisis. 

Worthy is the first African-American woman to serve as a county prosecutor in the state of Michigan.

She became widely known following her office’s prosecution of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2008. She started as an assistant prosecutor in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1984. As an assistant prosecutor, her most notable case was the prosecution of Detroit police officers Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers in the beating death of Detroit motorist Malice Green, an African-American.

Worthy later served as a judge on the Wayne County Circuit Court Criminal Division from 1994 to January 2004.

Worthy’s office is the busiest of any prosecutor in Michigan’s 83 counties. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office handles 52 percent of all felony cases in the state and 64 percent of all serious felony cases that go to jury trial.

Worthy also gained national attention for working to resolve a major backlog of thousands of abandoned rape kits discovered in a warehouse that Detroit police used as a storage facility to house evidence.


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Staff Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.