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Michigan’s new attorney general seeks review of Flint cases

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks Monday, Jan. 1, 2019, after being sworn-in on inauguration day at the State Capitol in Lansing, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area prosecutor will review a criminal investigation of the Flint water crisis and decide whether to take over the cases, Michigan’s new attorney general announced Friday.

During her run for office, Attorney General Dana Nessel criticized the cost and scope of the investigation, which so far has led only to misdemeanor convictions for some state and local officials. Two people who were senior members of then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration have been ordered to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges related to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

Nessel said she asked Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy to look at the files.

“There is no one whose opinion I value more when it comes to the complexity and importance of these cases,” said Nessel, a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor.

Flint’s water was contaminated with lead, which leached from old plumbing and fixtures. The city, while under state financial management, began using the Flint River in 2014 but failed to treat it properly to reduce corrosion. Some experts believe the water also caused a Legionnaires’ outbreak in 2014-15.

The criminal investigation has been led by special prosecutor Todd Flood, who was appointed in 2016 by then-Attorney General Bill Schuette. The Democratic Nessel accused Schuette, a Republican, of using the Flint water crisis for political gain during his unsuccessful run for governor.

Flood declined to comment Friday. He remains on the job while Worthy conducts her review.

“It is important to remember that there is a lot of material to review as these investigations are almost three years old,” Worthy said.

Nessel wouldn’t say whether any criminal charges might be dismissed. The manslaughter cases involve Nick Lyon, who was head of the state health department, and Dr. Eden Wells, who was Michigan’s chief medical executive.

Separately, a federal appeals court said Friday that former public officials can’t escape a lawsuit by Flint residents who claim a constitutional right to “bodily integrity” was violated by the switch to tainted water.

Nessel, whose office is defending the state in lawsuits related to the Flint crisis, told the Detroit Free Press that she’d like to settle them now that she’s the attorney general. She said she would consult the new governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer.

“I would like to make certain that the residents of Flint who have been harmed are indemnified. … It’s my feeling that Gov. Whitmer cares deeply and wants to make certain they receive as much help as possible,” Nessel told the newspaper.

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