AG’s office has seized almost 20 million new docs in Flint water investigation

By: - June 29, 2019 10:47 am

Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

Updated, 2:26 p.m. 6/29/19

At a Friday night town hall in Flint, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced they’ve seized almost 20 million pieces of new evidence in the now more than three-year-old criminal investigation of the city’s water crisis.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud at the Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

Hammoud and Worthy said that only about 1% of the total evidence now available to them had been uncovered by former Special Counsel Todd Flood, leading to their controversial decision to drop all pending charges and effectively restart the investigation.

“When we started inquiring as to how evidence was collected. … I mean, this is ‘Criminal Investigations 101.’ It should be the investigators and the prosecution who get the evidence,” Hammoud said, referring to an agreement between the previous investigators and state agencies that reportedly limited the former’s discretion in collecting evidence. 

“We’re supposed to have everything, look at it, and make a decision. That’s not the way things happened in this case.”

Hammoud and Worthy used Friday’s town hall to elaborate on their argument that former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s independent Office of Special Counsel weren’t aggressive enough in investigating the alleged criminal wrongdoing on the part of various state officials in Flint, saying the 24 boxes of new evidence uncovered in February were just the tip of the iceberg.

Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

The two prosecutors say they now have more than 600 state devices in their possession that contain relevant evidence.

Hammoud, who replaced Flood in April, slammed her predecessor’s approach to the case.

“There was an agreement by the Office of Special Counsel in this case as to how discovery was to be produced,” Hammoud said. “That agreement was signed by the former Special Counsel, and it was also signed by the personal attorney for former Gov. Rick Snyder. … This case’s investigation signed an agreement as to how evidence was going to be delivered with the attorney of a man who wasn’t even charged.”

“You don’t go and tell the defendant, ‘Please give me what you think is OK for me to look at,’” she said earlier in her opening remarks. “What else is out there? What did [state agencies] not provide?” 

Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

During the two-plus-hour town hall, Flint residents asked the prosecutorial team a series of pointed and emotional questions. Despite frequent applause for Hammoud and Worthy, the audience mostly vented their frustration after three-plus years of an investigation they say hasn’t come nearly close enough to bringing those responsible for the poisoning of the city’s water supply to justice.

A common refrain from Flint residents since the early stages of the investigation has been that criminal charges should be filed against former Gov. Rick Snyder. The prosecutors largely dodged that question Friday night, with Hammoud simply saying they will “go where the evidence takes them.”

The prosecutors also criticized Flood’s investigation for its perceived leniency in plea bargains reached with the seven defendants who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors related to the crisis. Hammoud said the extent to which they misled the public amounted to a miscarriage of justice.

“When we talk about convictions, it’s important to tell the people what you’re doing, and propaganda in a case like this is a form of injustice,” Hammoud said. 

Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

“All of them, every single one of them [who pleaded] will walk away from this. With nothing. Those are the terms of the plea deals that were given,” she continued. “If you sit here and you have a parking ticket, that’s more on your record, because they won’t even walk away with a civil infraction.”

Hammoud and Worthy also reminded the audience that if they discover new evidence related to potential crimes on the part of the defendants who pleaded guilty, they will not be able to prosecute them due to both double jeopardy rules and the terms of their plea agreements.

“We told you about the additional information that we found. We told you that… we may find something in those documents, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Worthy said. “It’s called double jeopardy.”

Flint activist Marseille L. Allen at the Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

Flint activist Marseille Allen introduced Hammoud and Worthy, reading aloud Attorney General Dana Nessel’s statement released earlier today explaining her absence from the town hall. Nessel has insulated herself from the criminal investigation of the crisis due to her position leading the state’s defense of the various civil lawsuits related to the water crisis.*

“Because I am working on the civil cases, I am screened off from all of the work being done by Fadwa and Kym. … Ethical rules severely limit what I can say about the civil cases and, unfortunately, they also prevent me from having a direct conversation with the people of Flint,” Nessel said in a statement Friday.  

That same conflict led to the creation of the Office of Special Counsel and Flood’s appointment as its head. Hammoud and Worthy said that Flood failed to ensure relevant evidence made available to the state’s defense attorneys in the civil case was available to the criminal prosecution as well.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud at the Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

They said that Flint residents should expect more charges as they continue reviewing the documents.

“No one is off the hook,” Hammoud said. “We have a lot of evidence to go through. Those cases would have gone to trial, prior to us going through the evidence, and then we would have run into double jeopardy issues.”

“That’s why it’s so important from the very beginning that when you start charging folks, you have a proper investigation,” Worthy said.

One resident questioned the prosecutors’ decision to announce they were dropping charges without first notifying the community, saying it amounted to a breach of trust for a community already wary of the state government.

Hammoud and Worthy said that the 15-day gap between the town hall and the announcement of charges being dropped was for both strategic and scheduling reasons.

Michigan attorney general’s office Flint town hall | Derek Robertson

“We were up against a legal deadline,” Worthy said. “We had a judge giving an opinion who wasn’t privy to all this information we’re sharing, and we didn’t want to be legally bound by that opinion because we still had all this evidence to go through.”

One audience member asked Hammoud to justify her retaining some of the investigators from the original prosecution team.

“Every single one of these people behind me was told that anybody that I believe has jeopardized the integrity of this case and is not pursuing justice in best interest of Flint has no room on this team, and I will continue to do so,” Hammoud said.

Flint water adviser draws on personal health trauma in helping city cope

Hammoud and Worthy said their team is still reviewing the millions of new documents in the case, and noted that the six-year statute of limitations for misconduct charges is rapidly approaching for many of the acts being investigated.

Hammoud told an audience member their team would prioritize potential misconduct charges, as any potential involuntary manslaughter charges would have a longer ten-year statute of limitations — but she emphasized that the sheer volume of new evidence means that timeline could be as fluid as the investigation.

“We don’t want to hold onto a [date] because it’s still under investigation,” Hammoud said. “Misconduct caused the manslaughter, and that’s why it’s important for us to proceed on a shorter timeline, and we will do everything we can strategically to make the case when we present it the strongest.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, April 20, 2016 in Flint | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Worthy told reporters after the event that the prosecutors have only gone through a very small number of the millions of documents now in their possession.

In a statement Friday night, former Attorney General Schuette defended Flood’s investigation.

“The Office of Special Counsel stands by our investigation into the Flint water crisis,” Schuette wrote. “We took the steps that preserved the evidence in this case, and our work was not done… This is not about prosecutor versus prosecutor. This has always been, and only been, a fight for justice for the families of Flint. We acknowledge it’s their case now and we wish them success in their pursuit of justice for the people of Flint.”

* This story has been corrected to reflect that Flint activist Marseille Allen introduced Hammoud and Worthy.

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.