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Flint demonstration

Demonstrators demand action about the water crisis in Flint before the Republican presidential debate March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Flint Residents 'Disgusted' After Court Throws Out Indictments of Top Officials

"It has become increasingly clear that the judicial system is not a viable option for a poor majority Black community facing injustice," said Flint Rising.

Jessica Corbett

Flint residents expressed disappointment and disgust after the Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday determined former state officials were not indicted properly—yet again delaying accountability for the city's water crisis.

"No more excuses. No more delays."

"This leaves no one criminally responsible for poisoning 100,000 people in one of the largest public health disasters in this nation's history," Flint Rising said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the group is "disgusted" by the 6-0 decision.

"It has been 2,986 days since the start of the Flint water crisis. Throughout the years, we've sent buses of Flint residents to our state and nation's capital, shared our stories, marched in the streets, and fought for reparations for our community," the group continued.

Their advocacy last year led to "making lead service line replacement a reality for communities across the country through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act," Flint Rising noted, "yet no one has been held accountable."

"It has become increasingly clear that the judicial system is not a viable option for a poor majority Black community facing injustice," the organization said. "For us, justice means all of the infrastructure (public and private) replaced with Flint hands, lifelong healthcare and educational support services, and those responsible brought to justice. No more excuses. No more delays. We will see you in the streets."

The high court found that prosecutors appointed by Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel should not have relied on Genesee County Circuit Judge David Newblatt acting as a one-man grand jury to charge nine people including Rick Synder, the former GOP governor.

Three of the indicted individuals—Richard Baird, Nicholas Lyon, and Nancy Peeler—challenged the process by which they were charged, leading to the state court's decision Tuesday.

"MCL 767.3 and MCL 767.4 authorize a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and issue arrest warrants. But they do not authorize the judge to issue indictments," states the Michigan Supreme Court opinion. "And if a criminal process begins with a one-man grand jury, the accused is entitled to a preliminary examination before being brought to trial."

"Accordingly, we reverse the Genesee Circuit Court's orders denying Peeler's and Baird's motions to remand for a preliminary examination and denying Lyon's motion to dismiss," the document continued. "We remand to the Genesee Circuit Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

As the Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday:

Due to the significance of the case, Justice Richard Bernstein wrote in a separate but concurring opinion, prosecutors should have taken every necessary step to avoid any public scrutiny over the legal procedures.

"Put simply, the prosecution's power to charge individuals and haul them into court is constrained by certain preconditions," Bernstein wrote. "We recognize today that, under these circumstances, one of those preconditions is required by statute—a preliminary examination.

"The prosecution cannot simply cut corners in order to prosecute defendants more efficiently. To allow otherwise would be repugnant to the foundational principles of our judicial system."

Attorneys for Snyder now "say they will move immediately to dismiss all Flint water criminal charges pending against him and eight others charged with similar crimes likely won't be far behind," according to MLive.

Meanwhile, Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said in a statement Tuesday that "the citizens of Flint should know that these cases are not over. Public commentary to the contrary is presumptive and rash."

After briefly explaining prosecutors' reasoning for using the process they did, she noted that Bernstein also wrote: "If the allegations can be proved, it is impossible to fully state the magnitude of the damage state actors have caused to an innocent group of people—a group of people that they were entrusted to serve. The Flint water crisis stands as one of this country's greatest betrayals of citizens by their government."

"Do you know it's been eight long years—eight? Eight long years that we've been dealing with this atrocity."

Hammoud vowed that "we are prepared and determined to prove the allegations against the defendants in court and are committed to seeing this process through to its conclusion."

Despite that promise, the people of Flint—where residents were impacted by high lead levels and Legionnaires' disease after the water supply was switched to the Flint River in 2014 in an effort to save money—remain frustrated.

"The court system should be ashamed that they let it drag on this long," Claudia Perkins-Milton, a lifelong Flint resident and an activist on water issues, told The New York Times Tuesday.

"People here are so upset," she added. "Do you know it's been eight long years—eight? Eight long years that we've been dealing with this atrocity."

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