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Flint Water Prosecution Team Responds to Michigan Supreme Court’s Decision on Last Remaining Flint Water Crisis Charges Against Rick Snyder
October 31, 2023
LANSING – This morning, the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) declined to hear appeals of a lower court order dismissing the misdemeanor charges brought against former governor Richard Snyder. The denial is predicated on the MSC’s own 2022 ruling in People v Peeler, which upended a century of precedent upholding the use of one-man grand juries. This ruling effectively closes the door on the criminal prosecutions of the government officials the People alleged to be responsible for the Flint Water Crisis, without the People being permitted to admit a single item of evidence in open court.
In the decision, the Supreme Court stated that “we are not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.” This is the same reasoning provided by the Courts in each denial, without providing any further information to substantiate or justify their decision to the People.
At this time the Court has left us with no option but to consider the Flint Water Prosecutions closed. The Flint Water Prosecution Team will be releasing a full and thorough report to the public in the months to come detailing the efforts and decisions of the State prosecution. It is anticipated the report will be released in 2024.
“Today, our Supreme Court has put the final nail in the coffin of the Flint Water Prosecutions,” the Flint Water Prosecution Team said. “The Court decided that a process which has stood in place for over a century, one whose legitimacy the Court upheld repeatedly, was simply not ‘good enough’ to hold those responsible for the Flint Water Crisis accountable for their actions. Our disappointment in the Michigan Supreme Court is exceeded only by our sorrow for the people of Flint.”
The Flint Water Prosecution Team conducted a thorough investigation leading to the authorization of the one-man grand jury over 12 months. The evidence of which was presented to a one-man grand jury, in which Judge Newblatt, a Genesee County Circuit Court judge, found probable cause that crimes were committed by government officials and issued 11 indictments and 41 charges against the nine defendants.
The one-man grand jury used in these prosecutions was legally in place for nearly two years between the start of the process and the Peeler decision. It has been applied in Michigan criminal prosecutions for over 100 years and utilized by prosecutors all over the State of Michigan, resulting in thousands of prosecutions and convictions. Minor changes to the procedure have been made along the way, but none as impactful as this, and none that have rendered the work of the one-person grand jury meaningless. The Supreme Court’s ruling was not based on the facts of the case and does not in any way imply innocence of any charged individual. In fact, no court in the State has heard the evidence supporting the criminal charges brought by the prosecutors. Only the grand juror, a judge, has examined the evidence in this case. After that examination, he found probable cause to charge each of the nine defendants.
“The residents of Flint deserved their day in court,” said the Flint Water Prosecution Team. “If a jury decided that the defendants were not guilty of the charged offenses, so be it. To deny the opportunity to present the evidence and to let the victims tell their story is truly heartbreaking.
"Our goal with each step was to seek accountability on behalf of the residents. We brought in experts on lead poisoning and Legionnaires' disease, and for the first time in the Flint Water investigation, our team examined each and every death and sought every legal remedy available to us. We are extremely disappointed that accountability for those alleged responsible is being denied on unprecedented process rulings.
“The monumental amount of work our team poured into this pursuit of justice for the People of Flint should not be extinguished with a single sentence order from the Court stating that they were not persuaded to take up this question. For this to be the end of any possible criminal accountability for powerful former leaders of this State is a tragic ending to a man-made tragedy that took lives. It will remain the mission of the Prosecution team to show the City, the State, what our investigation uncovered about the personal culpability of the people we charged in one of the worst man-made crises we have seen in our lifetime.
“This crisis killed people, and left others with injuries that will last a lifetime. Our hearts break for the People of Flint, those no longer with us, those left behind to mourn them, and it is the People of Flint who are once again the victims of decisions made by a few powerful people in Lansing.”
Per MCL 767.4, the evidence presented to the grand juror must remained sealed. However, this office is determined to work with the Legislature to enact changes to this law. To allow the people of Flint the opportunity to know how and why they were exposed to lethal chemicals in their water is the very least that can be done.
“I am disheartened and frustrated that justice for the people of Flint has been denied once again,” Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said. “The evidence in this case has never been heard. This prevailed on a legal technicality, whereby people of color historically have not had the same opportunities. The one-man grand jury has been upheld against plaintiffs from under-resourced backgrounds, while Snyder has been allowed to evade justice based on a technicality thanks to a well-resourced, taxpayer-funded legal defense. The standard of justice has not been balanced.”
In addition to working with the Legislature, this office will be releasing a report that will detail the decisions that were made during the Flint Water Prosecutions, and the reasons behind those decisions. This report will not contain any material presented to the grand juror, but it will attempt to explain how and why this office acted in the manner it did. It is our hope that this report will offer a better understanding to the people of Flint and Michigan to whom accountability in this man-made crisis meant the most.
In 2019, upon taking office, Attorney General Dana Nessel implemented a conflict wall to ensure the criminal investigation and civil litigation following the Flint Water Crisis were conducted by completely separate teams. The Department of Attorney General was bound to represent the State in defense of the civil litigation, and Nessel led the civil litigation team. As such, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, then-Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, and a team of experienced prosecutors and investigators led the criminal prosecutions stemming from the Flint Water Crisis. AG Nessel has had no operational involvement with the criminal prosecutions and focused her efforts on the civil litigation, which resulted in the affected people of Flint receiving the largest civil settlement in the history of our state.