For the first time in 16 years, Michigan elected a Democrat as their Attorney General and Dana Nessel’s first major decision was to dismiss all pending criminal charges against the state and city officials responsible for Flint Michigan’s polluted drinking water this past weekend. Mainstream media commentators were critical of her decision as well as Flint residents, who saw this move as further evidence that no justice would be pursued for the toxic water conditions which exposed up to 42,000 children under 2 years of age to lead poisoning. Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident who is the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan that the announcement came as “a slap in the face to Flint residents” and “it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”
But in reading through Egan’s article, additional pieces of this puzzling decision hinted that the coverup, by the accused officials, may actually have continued to the extent of endangering the investigation. In other words, there may be a legitimate reason for redoing the criminal charges. Although new cases will cost additional public money, Nessel says she made this decision precisely to save tax payer’s money from being wasted on faulty work by the former Republican State Attorney General, Bill Schuette. She said, his cases “have gone on for years and have cost the taxpayers of this state millions of dollars. It’s time for resolution and justice for the people of Flint.”
Schuette was overseeing the investigation and he has not been sympathetic to Flint residents in the past. In 2017, he had been admonished by an Eastern District of United States of Michigan Judge for opposing the State of Michigan supplying bottled water to Flint residents who lack tap filters to protect them from the toxic drinking water. The judge suggested he had engaged in “superficial posturing” in being concerned about Flint’s water contamination.
That opinion of Schuette, was mild in comparison to the findings of Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is currently handling the criminal cases, and is the first Muslim Solicitor General in US. She found that not all evidence was pursued by Schultte and his special prosecutor Todd Flood, who was a prominent donor to then Republican Governor Rick Snyder. In addition, Schuette and Flood wrongly allowed private law firms representing Snyder and other defendants to have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”
This scenario closely follows the prior coverups that officials, who were being charged, carried out in order to keep Flint residents ignorant of their unhealthy drinking water. This episode is covered in detail by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance and Hope American City. I reviewed it here.
As a pediatrician working at Flint’s Hurley Hospital, she intimately understood how public officials ignored the concerns of Flints residents, where 57 percent are black and only 37 percent white, and where a kid born in Flint will live 15 years less than one born in the neighboring communities.
The water problem began when Flint had to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to lower its costs and government agencies were not properly checking for lead in the water supply. Marc Edwards, a self-described conservative Republican and civil-engineering professor from Virginia Tech, saw that even though the federal law required proper inspections, “The EPA and the states work hand in hand to bury problems.” And those EPA employees who did try to protect the public, were punished. An EPA manager, who issued a report to his supervisors that he found high levels of lead in Flint’s water supply, was reprimanded and labeled “a rogue employee.”
The local county’s health-department representative was no better than the EPA, telling Dr. Hanna-Attisha that lead in the water was not a concern of theirs, only lead from paint chips and dust. However, something was obviously wrong. Just six months after the water switch, General Motors got a government waiver to go back to using Lake Huron water. The company noticed that its engine parts were being corroded after the switch.
The highest public official, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, was at the heart of the problem by supporting a law that allowed him to appoint powerful emergency managers (EM) of cities whose budgets were deeply in debt. The EMs were accountable to the governor, not local governments, to pursue strong austerity measures. Because it was too costly, Flint’s EM rejected the city-council vote to go back to Detroit’s water supply due to consumer-health complaints.
Given Gov. Snyder’s role in allowing the Flint water crises to unfold without intervening, Solicitor General Hammoud was rightfully concerned how prior Attorney General Schuette’s special prosecutor Todd Flood let Snyder decide what information would be turned over to law enforcement. Just as Schuette had been accused by a federal judge as “superficial posturing” to appear to support Flint residents, the same deceptive practice may have been carried out again by him in cooperation with Gov. Snyder, by presenting a weak prosecution of those accused of propagating the Flint water crises.
As a Democratic Candidate for State Attorney General, Dana Nessel said she would “take a second look at the investigation, make certain that all of the people who have charges pending have been charged properly and look to see if there’s anyone who should have been charged, but who hasn’t been.” Upon dismissing the current charges, she repeated that sentiment by stating that she did not preclude recharging the original defendants or adding new ones.
The next step in pursuing a new set of charges against those responsible for Flint’s water contamination and health hazard will take place June 28 in a Flint “community conversation” with Solicitor General Hammoud. She will explain Nessel’s decision and answer questions. Community activists are the ones who uncovered this travesty and demanded prosecution of those responsible. They will be present at the meeting and will hold Hammoud and Nessel to their promise to seek justice and not abandon it.