- Prosecutors in the Flint water investigation announced that they will drop all existing criminal charges regarding the Flint water crisis.
- Prosecutors explained in a statement that they dropped the charges in order to start a new investigation.
- They said that when they inherited the investigation from previous prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” about how it had been handled.
- Residents of Flint, who already have little trust in the government, are upset with the decision.
Michigan state prosecutors said Thursday that they are dropping all pending criminal charges brought against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis.
In a statement, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took control of the Flint investigation in January, said that they decided to drop the charges in order to launch a new, more complete investigation.
Hammoud and Worthy explained that when they took over the investigation from the previous team of prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” with how the investigation had been handled.
“Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all available evidence was not pursued,” they said in the statement.
They also said that the previous team had let law firms representing former Gov. Rick Snyder and other defendants have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”
“We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation. Dismissing these cases allows us to move forward according to the non-negotiable requirements of a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation,” they continued.
Hammoud and Worthy also added that the dismissal will not prevent them from refiling the same charges against the officials or adding more charges and new defendants in the future.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel defended the prosecutors in a separate statement.
“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” she said.
Flint Water Crisis
The Flint water crisis traces back to April of 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as part of a cost-saving effort.
However, proper precautions were not taken to prevent lead in the pipes from contaminating the clean water.
Fifteen state and local officials involved in the oversight of Flint’s water system were charged by the Michigan attorney general’s office of crimes ranging from willful neglect of duty to involuntary manslaughter.
Seven of those accused took plea deals. Eight others, including the majority of high-ranking officials implicated in the scandal, were still waiting for trials.
Notable among those accused was Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his failure to tell the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease linked to bacteria in the Flint River, which resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people.
While prosecutors argue that the dismissal of criminal charges is necessary to expand the investigation, many Flint residents, who already have low trust in the government but crave justice, are more skeptical.
Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press that the announcement was “a slap in the face to Flint residents.”
“This has been bungled,” Shariff said. “I’m very disappointed with Dana Nessel’s office because she ran on a platform that she was going to provide justice for Flint residents, and it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”
Flint resident Melissa Mays, who founded the group Water You Fighting For, also told the Detroit Free Press that she was upset the decision was made without the residents of Flint. “It’s extremely terrifying,” she said.
“Now, we have people who may or may not know what is going on, all it does is reinforce that our voices mean nothing.”
Another Flint resident named Fortina Harris told CNN that he feels helpless. “We’ve been dogged out, misused, abused and we still need to pay water bills and wash our bodies,” he said.
“We don’t get any supplement. No discounts or nothing for buying water. We got to fend for our self.”
Political figures who represent Flint in various government bodies also expressed their dissatisfaction with the prosecutors’ decision. Flint City Councilwoman Monica Galloway told CNN that she was “appalled” by the move.
“The lead impact on our children hasn’t even been realized, which means that there’s many unknowns for their future. They haven’t been made whole,” she said.
“It causes me to believe that Gov. Snyder just got a get out of jail free card. The people that are responsible will be walking away free.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, who represents Flint, echoed the same sentiment, telling the Detroit Free Press he wants “to see people behind bars.”
“Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city,” Ananich said. “Months of investigation have turned into years, and the only thing to show for it is a bunch of lawyers who have gotten rich off the taxpayers’ dime.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, however, expressed more optimism.
“We’re excited about a full investigation,” Weaver said in an interview with a local news station.
“What we deserve is a full investigation because we know what happened in Flint was criminal adn we’ve been waiting for accountability and justice.”
See what others are saying: (The Free Detroit Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.