Flint 6 Arrests Clouded In Secrecy
Three weeks after the arrests of six Flint, MI, residents at a public town hall about the city’s water crisis, the case has been marked by irregularities, a lack of transparency, and an unusual degree of secrecy, according to principals in the case and related documents obtained by TYT Politics.
The Flint 6 were arrested April 20 at a mayoral town hall held at House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church after police officials warned attendees that they’d be arrested if they didn’t observe church rules of decorum that legal experts say violate the state’s rules for open meetings.
At the time, city officials said charges ranged from being a disorderly person, to interfering with police, to the most serious charge of assault on a police officer, which is a felony.
The case is politically sensitive because, like thousands of other residents, the Flint 6 have all been affected by the city and state’s mishandling of Flint’s water supply three years ago; some of them suffer from respiratory, immune, and skin disorders that began after the water switch.
In the weeks since their arrest, the Flint 6 still have not been arraigned, nor been given a date for arraignment. They’ve also not been notified whether they are being charged at the city or state level. Although all six were incarcerated overnight following their arrest, and one allegedly assaulted an officer, no hearing was held to set bail before they were released the next day.
Typically, after being arrested and held overnight, defendants are brought before a judge for an arraignment, where they formally hear the charges against them.
“That didn’t happen here,” Gregory Gibbs, an attorney with the local ACLU — who is representing five of the six arrested residents — told TYT Politics. “It’s unusual for these particular authorities, in my opinion, to wait so long.”
Gibbs explained that the standard operating procedure for charging an individual arrested is for police to give the information to the City Attorney or County Prosecutor—depending on whether the allegations concern city ordinances or state law — with a request for them to issue criminal charges.
If charges are issued, they’re then filed with the court and an arraignment scheduled for the defendant to go before a judge and be read the charges against them.
If the charge is serious — in this case, assaulting a police officer would be considered just that — the offender wouldn’t be released from custody after seeing the judge or would likely, at a minimum, have to post bail first.
“What I think is unusual in this case is that the parties were arrested, confined in a jail overnight and released pending further investigation,” Gibbs continued.
“It is unusual because if they were considered to be so dangerous as to require immediate incarceration, then the usual procedure would be to immediately charge them and bring them before a judge rather than release them the next day pending further investigation.”
Gibbs sent a letter to Interim Flint City Attorney Angela Wheeler and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton on April 27 notifying them that the ACLU would represent the arrested citizens and asking for notice if and when formal charges were filed so the residents could willingly surrender themselves rather than have officers arrest them in public.
TYT Politics has learned Leyton is reviewing five of the cases; Wheeler is reviewing the remaining case.
After the arrests, mayoral spokesperson Kristin Moore said the filing of charges was, “pending further investigation,” but neither the Flint 6 nor any witnesses interviewed by TYT Politics report being contacted by investigators from either the police or prosecutors. Police typically attempt to interview witnesses and suspects quickly to secure fresh recollections and details that might fade with time.
But the city has not responded to the ACLU nor been in touch with the arrested residents regarding the state of the investigation, what’s being investigated, or how long they will have the uncertainty of potential criminal prosecution hanging over their head.
“The cases related to the town hall are still with the officer-in-charge in the warrant packet preparation phase and have not been presented to the prosecutor’s office for review yet,” Moore told TYT Politics. “I am told this is typical and the process is progressing as it should.”
Moore did not respond when asked why the arrested residents were never arraigned before a judge, nor why the arrestees who allegedly assaulted a police officer — although no such assault appears on any of the known video recordings made of the town hall— would be released from jail in the first place.
When asked what the mayor thought about lead-poisoned residents being aggressively arrested while voicing their dissent at a public town hall, Moore told me the mayor was unaware of the arrests while they were occurring during the town hall.
But she was certainly aware directly after — I spotted her at a table in the White Horse Tavern sitting with who, from behind, looked like police commissioner Tim Johnson. Moore did not confirm or deny that it was Johnson with Weaver, presumably discussing the next steps following the arrests (or to prepare damage control).
As one of the only national reporters covering the town hall that night, I observed an aggressive tone set from the beginning by Commissioner Johnson, who, in an opening comment, warned that he’d be determining what is and isn’t appropriate conduct for outraged and frustrated poisoned citizens.
“Please don’t be in here trying to disrupt this meeting,” Johnson said at the open of the town hall, adding, “because if you do I’m going to escort you out and I’m only going to take you to the back door and then you’re going to jail. I’m not going to play with nobody tonight.”
Johnson also labeled the lead-poisoned residents who spoke out at the town hall as “agitators” following the arrests — a common phrase label applied by law enforcement and many conservative media figures to protesters, or, in this case, victims of government-made poisoning.
In follow-up interviews by TYT Politics with five members of the Flint 6, a similar pattern emerged: None have a clue what they were arrested for, what stage the supposed investigation into their alleged crimes is at, or when the uncertainty will end.
None have been contacted by police, so in addition to a daily life of dealing with health and financial consequences from being poisoned, they’re also dealing with the stress of ambiguity regarding their freedom and legal status.
“When there is more to report, I have your information I will send you an update,” Moore told me.
TYT Politics will be staying on this story, in addition to other important stories related to the Flint water crisis.