Energy & Environment

Michigan court rules grand jury improperly indicted officials in Flint water case

FILE – This screen shot from video, shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, during his Zoom hearing in the 67th District Court in Flint, Mich., on Jan. 18, 2020. A judge had no authority to issue indictments in the Flint water scandal, the Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday, June 28, 2022 in an extraordinary decision that wipes out charges against former Gov. Snyder, his health director and seven other people (67th District Court in Flint via AP, file)

Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the indictment of former Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and several other officials in connection with the contamination of water in Flint was improper because the grand jury consisted of a single judge. 

The high court unanimously overturned the indictments against Snyder and eight others, including former health director Nick Lyon. The one-judge Genesee County grand jury overstepped its legal authority by issuing the indictments, the court wrote.  

While state statutes “authorize the use of a one-man grand jury to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and issue arrest warrants, those statutes do not authorize that one-man grand jury to issue an indictment initiating a criminal prosecution,” the court wrote in a 6-0 decision.

One justice, Elizabeth Clement, recused herself due to her earlier work as chief legal counsel to Snyder. 

The decision remands the case against the nine officials to the Genesee Circuit Court. Snyder is due to testify separately in a lawsuit against two companies that advised the city during the water crisis. The former governor is expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

“The Citizens of Flint should know that these cases are not over. Public commentary to the contrary is presumptive and rash. Our reading is that the Court’s opinion interprets the one-man grand jury process to require charges to be filed at the district court and include a preliminary examination,” Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said in a statement.

“Our team is prepared to move forward through that process. We relied upon settled law and the well-established prosecutorial tool of the one-man grand jury, used for decades, to bring forward charges against the nine defendants in the Flint water crisis. We still believe these charges can and will be proven in court.”

Snyder and the other officials were indicted in January 2021, with the former governor charged on two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect in connection with the Flint water crisis.

In 2014, Snyder appointees approved changing the water source for the predominantly-Black city from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. Over an 18-month period, the city was supplied with contaminated water, exposing up to 12,000 children to elevated levels of lead. 

The crisis has also been linked to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that caused 12 deaths. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), upon taking office in 2019, dismissed a number of pending criminal cases relating to the Flint situation, citing prosecutorial overreach, and announced the criminal investigation would be handled by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Nessel’s office told The Hill “The prosecution team is reviewing the opinion from the court.” 

The Hill has reached out to Worthy’s office for comment. 

Updated: 3:56 p.m.

Tags dana nessel Flint water crisis Flint water crisis Genesee County Kym Worthy Michigan Nick Lyon Prosecution Rick Snyder Rick Snyder
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