In a surprise move, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges in the Flint water crisis on Thursday, TIME reports. But the investigation isn't necessary over: The state's solicitor general said that "all available evidence was not pursued" by the case's previous investigators, and pledged to renew the investigation with an even wider scope than before.
“This week, we completed the transfer into our possession millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation,” said Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in a statement. “Our team’s efforts have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint water crisis. We are now in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve and hold all responsible parties accountable."
Prior to the announcement, eight people faced criminal charges in connection with the scandal, including five city officials who were charged with involuntary manslaughter regarding an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint, which many believe was linked to the contaminated water, that killed 12 people. Those charges have now been dropped. An additional seven people had been charged with misdemeanors in connection with the scandal, but had already accepted plea deals before Thursday's announcement, NPR reports.
Flint's water crisis began in 2014 after the construction of a new pipeline that introduced dangerous levels of lead in Flint residents' water, CNN reports. Although residents complained publicly about the issue many times in 2014 and 2015, city and state officials refused on several occasions to find a different water source for the city, according to CNN, and repeatedly insisted that the water was safe. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed in connection with the scandal, CNN reports.
A lawyer for former Michigan health director Nick Lyon, one of the individuals charged with involuntary manslaughter, told TIME that he and his client "feel fantastic and vindicated," adding that "a just and fair investigation, done properly, will yield no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing" on the part of Lyon, who pleaded not guilty.
Hammoud and Worthy, however, said in their statement that the investigation is "significantly expanding," not ending. They said in their statement that they had "immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories" that previous investigators in the case had used, "particularly regarding the pursuit of evidence." The Associated Press reported days earlier that Hammoud and Worthy had seized cell phone data from more than 65 current or former officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, as part of the investigation.
The future of the investigation is unclear, as Hammoud and Worthy didn't announce any new charges. However, a statement by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that the state dismissed the previous charges "in order to conduct a full and complete investigation," so presumably, the state will continue to investigate the matter, and could press charges again if it sees fit.
According to NPR, Flint's water has significantly improved since the crisis. TIME reports, however, that many residents continue to be distrustful of the city's water management and drink from bottled water as a precaution.