Case dismissed against last Flint water crisis defendant
Liane Shekter-Smith sat quietly in court Wednesday as the Michigan Solicitor General railed against the plea deal that was about to lead to the dismissal of the case against her.
Shekter-Smith had been an official with the Department of Environmental Quality during the time the city of Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead. The contamination was tied to an ill-advised switch in the city’s drinking water source. Water from the Flint River was not properly treated, releasing lead and other contaminates into the city’s drinking water.
Shekter-Smith was one of 15 state and local officials charged in connection with the water crisis. She was the chief of the state Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance at the DEQ. Shekter-Smith was the only state official to lose her job because of the water crisis.
After being indicted on felony charges, and prosecutors saying they planned to file an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter against her, Shekter-Smith reached a plea deal involving a lone misdemeanor charge.
Like other defendants who cut plea deals with the original prosecution team, Liane Shekter-Smith was eligible to have the case against her dismissed, as long as she cooperated with prosecutors.
But Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud is no fan the plea deals agreed to by her predecessor as the head of the state investigation of the Flint water crisis.
In court, Hammoud criticized the plea deal that will allow Shekter-Smith to walk free without facing the victims of the water crisis.
“(The victims) have expressed throughout the time concern that they were never included as part of this process, which for many validated the mistrust they still have in the system,” Hammoud told the judge, while also admitting she had no choice but to dismiss the case.
Defense Attorney Brian Morley did not feel Hammoud’s strong condemnation of the plea deal was inappropriate.
“I understand the frustration. I understand what happened here,” says Morley, “But you have to make sure that it’s the right people who are punished for it.”
Shortly after she was appointed to run the Flint water crisis investigation, Hammoud dismissed charges against those defendants who had not cut plea deals with prosecutors. That group included two former Flint emergency managers and the former head of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Despite numerous charges filed and years spent on a criminal investigation, no one has spent time in jail in connection with the water crisis that exposed tens of thousands of Flint residents to contaminated water and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the time, Hammoud claimed problems with the original investigation were forcing her office to begin the investigation again. Time may be running short to file new charges as the statute of limitations may prevent charges from being filed.
If new charges are filed, it’s possible Liane Shekter-Smith may find herself back in a Flint courtroom. Not as a defendant, but as a witness.
Hammoud says the former DEQ official has spent 17 hours talking to investigators about the department’s actions during the water crisis.
Meanwhile, Liane Shekter-Smith’s attorney says she plans to begin the process of trying to get her old state job back.
She did not talk to the press after Wednesday’s hearing.