Michigan Drops Criminal Cases Over Flint Water Scandal, But Battle Not Over

Supreme Court Deals Final Blow to Controversial Snyder Prosecution

Lansing, MI – Michigan prosecutors reluctantly closed the book Tuesday on historic criminal cases emerging from the Flint water contamination crisis after the state Supreme Court declined to intervene, leaving charges formally dismissed against ex-Governor Rick Snyder and his administration.

The Office of Attorney General Dana Nessel said it had “no option” but to consider the matter over following the high court’s refusal to hear appeals in prosecutions it sought using an uncommon one-judge grand jury convened to investigate the scandal. That now defunct legal tactic formed the basis for indicting Snyder and eight others for roles in the health disaster.

In 2021 the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated charges issued under the grand jury, ruling the process itself unconstitutional. When justices last week refused prosecutors’ Hail Mary bid to resuscitate the major cases, the writing was on the wall legally if not politically.

“The court has left us with no option but to consider the Flint water prosecutions closed,” the prosecution team conceded. They nonetheless promised a forthcoming report detailing their work on a saga that still reverberates nationwide.

The criminal path may be foreclosed, but civil proceedings continue apace. Parallel state civil suits target Snyder and others for damages. Those remain active after Flint residents reached a $600 million settlement with the state itself over the water crisis fallout earlier this year.

Contamination arose after Snyder administration officials switched the city’s supply source to the Flint River but neglected to treat the water to avoid metal corrosion. Lead and bacteria thus infiltrated distribution pipes and household plumbing, exposing up to 100,000 to potential poisoning risks ranging from cognitive issues to Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder himself was accused of misconduct and willful neglect of duty for failing to intervene sooner as reports emerged of dangerously high lead readings in children. His attorneys protested the Republican was unfairly scapegoated for what subordinates did and deserved vindication. They praised the effective end of prosecution Tuesday as rectifying partisan score-settling.

Yet while Snyder and his deputies avoid criminal liability, the tragedy on their watch permanently damaged Flint’s people and reputation. By letting one city’s crisis fester, the sullied legacy may haunt Snyder indefinitely even absent a conviction carrying jail time.

For struggling Flint families still grappling daily with the fallout, the quest for full justice continues regardless of prosecutors standing down. Only containing corrosive lead piping and corrosive memories may help the community move on from a human-made catastrophe that shook its faith.

Photo by Luis Tosta on Unsplash