The Michigan Supreme Court says that the charges in the Flint water crisis are not valid.
The ruling threw doubt on the cases against former Gov. Rick Snyder and other top officials.
On Tuesday, the Michigan Supreme Court said that former top state officials who were accused of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis were wrongly indicted. This ended some of the most high-profile prosecutions in recent state history and left residents whose tap water turned toxic eight years ago frustrated by a lack of accountability in criminal court.
When they brought charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and others last year, prosecutors said that these officials had failed to protect the safety and health of Flint residents, who were sickened by higher levels of lead and Legionnaires’ disease after the city’s water supply was switched to the Flint River in April 2014.
But prosecutors picked by Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel relied on a judge acting as a one-man grand jury to bring charges against Republican Governor Snyder and eight others, including the state’s former health director and chief medical officer. Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled 6-0 that single-person grand juries, which have been used for a long time in Michigan, could not be used in that way. Prosecutors said they would keep going after the charges, but they would do so in a different way.
Still, the Supreme Court’s decision was seen as yet another betrayal by many people in Flint, which used to be the center of the world’s auto industry but was already struggling with low investment, blight, and poverty before the water crisis. Some of Flint’s 81,000 residents have been calling for charges to be brought against Snyder and others for years. They have also been critical of an emergency oversight policy that let state officials take control of the city government and change the water source when the city was having money problems.
“The court system should be ashamed that they let it drag on for this long,” said Claudia Perkins-Milton, who has lived in Flint her whole life and is a water activist. She said she still only drinks water from bottles. “Everyone here is so sad. Do you realize that it’s been eight long years? We’ve had to deal with this terrible thing for eight long years.”
Three defendants, not including Mr. Snyder, had argued against the use of the one-man grand jury, but the court’s decision seemed likely to throw off the prosecutions of the other defendants as well. The ruling on Tuesday was a vindication for the defendants who had said from the beginning that the criminal charges were wrong and were based on politics. The lawyers for Mr. Snyder said that they would try to get his case thrown out.
But Fadwa Hammoud, the state solicitor general who has helped lead the Flint prosecutions, said in a statement released hours after the ruling that “these cases are not over” and that “comments to the contrary are premature and hasty.”
Ms. Hammoud said, “We are ready and willing to prove the charges against the defendants in court, and we are committed to seeing this process through to the end.”
Still, Sheldon Neeley, the mayor of Flint, said that the decision was disappointing because his people still didn’t trust the government. He said that he hoped the cases would still be investigated.
Mr. Neeley said, “People in this community feel like they haven’t been treated fairly, and this is another blow to their trust in the government.” He also said, “People are angry and unhappy.”