Sunday, June 23, 2024

Prosecutors in Michigan said Tuesday that a series of appellate court rulings meant they could no longer pursue criminal cases against the state’s former governor, Rick Snyder, and others accused of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis.

The announcement was the latest, and apparently final, setback in a troubled prosecution effort that had stretched over seven years and spanned the terms of two attorneys general.

“The residents of Flint deserved their day in court,” prosecutors said in a statement, in which they also said they considered the cases closed. “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.”

More than nine years have passed since state-appointed leaders decided to draw drinking water from the Flint River in an effort to save money. That decision led to a cascade of other failures. Local officials neglected to implement corrosion controls, causing lead to leach from the pipes. Health officials assured residents that the water was safe even as people complained that it smelled bad, tasted funny and was discolored.

When the scale of the errors became clear — children had been drinking water with dangerous quantities of lead, and at least 12 people had died in a Legionnaires’ outbreak that prosecutors linked to the new water source — trust in government was ruined.

Many residents of Flint, a city that had long struggled with crime, poverty and disinvestment, demanded criminal penalties for leaders who had failed them.

There were points when that seemed possible. Prosecutors appointed by the previous attorney general, a Republican, announced a wave of charges in 2016, prompting a few officials to take plea deals. But after Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, took office in 2019, she disbanded that prosecution team and appointed her own, which dismissed the remaining cases and started over.

Those prosecutors ultimately filed a new wave of charges, including willful neglect of duty charges against Mr. Snyder, a Republican, who denied criminal wrongdoing. Eight others — including two former Flint emergency managers, a top aide to Mr. Snyder and two high-ranking public health officials — were indicted at the same time as Mr. Snyder in 2021.

Those cases began to unravel last year when the Michigan Supreme Court found that a one-man grand jury prosecutors had used to secure the indictments was invalid. On Tuesday, the court declined to revisit Mr. Snyder’s case. When reached by email on Tuesday, representatives for Mr. Snyder did not immediately comment.

For some in Flint, the decision was one more disappointment. The city’s mayor, Sheldon Neeley, said in a statement that “justice for the people of Flint has been denied once again.”

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