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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kayla Ruble

Flint water crisis prosecutors vow to press on after latest court setback

DETROIT — Attorney General Dana Nessel's Flint water crisis prosecutors say they will continue to pursue criminal prosecutions despite a court ruling this week that threw out the felony indictments against seven state officials.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Kym Worthy, who has helped lead the nearly four-year-long investigation alongside Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, said the team remained committed to the case.

"We will continue to fight this case until we can reach a just resolution," Worthy said.

While Worthy emphasized their plan to move forward, she said they had not reached a decision on what the next steps will be following an order issued by Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Kelly on Tuesday that dismissed the charges.

"We do not rush to judgment. We do not make quick decisions. We thoroughly vet it among the team," Worthy said, explaining that they were not yet prepared to share their plans moving forward.

"It's something that we're still assessing and so I'm not going to comment on that until the teams that have ample time to look at it and distill what the ruling was yesterday."

Kelly's ruling dismissed the felony charges against former state health director Nick Lyon; former state medical executive Eden Wells; former Gov. Rick Snyder's adviser Richard Baird and communications director Jarrod Agen; former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley; and state health department employee Nancy Peeler.

Two other defendants, Snyder and former Flint public works director Howard Croft, are still awaiting a ruling in a Genesee County district court on their requests for dismissal because they are facing misdemeanors and their motions are being handled by the lower court.

The dismissal of charges against Lyon, Wells, the former Flint emergency managers and others is the latest setback in a criminal investigation and prosecution effort that began more than eight years ago under then-Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Under previous charges Schuette sought in 2017, Lyon's preliminary examination for a manslaughter charge took months before he was bound over for trial. In June 2019, Nessel's office dropped the first manslaughter cases against Lyon and Wells and restarted the Flint water investigation following a three-year prosecution effort by Schuette's team.

Nessel's office was hoping to avoid a monthslong delay by bypassing preliminary examinations through a one-judge grand jury indictment before the state Supreme Court overturned the use of that secretive prosecution process.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack referred to the attorney general office's use of a one-judge grand jury as a "Star Chamber comeback," a reference to a centuries-old, secretive court abused by high-ranking officials in the Middle Ages.

Worthy said Wednesday they were assessing whether it would be possible to proceed with the case through the preliminary exam process, in which prosecutors and defense teams present arguments and evidence in court before a judge rules on whether the charges can proceed to trial.

Tuesday's order from Genesee County Circuit Court was triggered by a June 29 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that the one-man grand jury process, which was employed by the Flint prosecutors to issue the charges, could not be used to issue criminal indictments. After the ruling, the defendants filed motions to have the cases against them dismissed.

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