Updated: MSU stonewalled state probe into Nassar abuse, AG report says

By: - December 21, 2018 5:18 pm

Updated, 3:40 p.m. Dec. 21

What Michigan State University employees may have known about the sexual abuse of hundreds of young girls at the hands of former gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar may never be fully known, according to a lead state investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

Explaining a blistering report accusing the Big Ten university of offering reams of useless information while stonewalling an investigation into Nassar’s abuse, Michigan Attorney General Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth said today that women who endured Nassar may never fully know the truth.

William Forsyth

Forsyth, who was tapped by term-limited Attorney General Bill Schuette, criticized MSU for shielding its internal investigation behind attorney-client privilege law which “made it virtually impossible to know exactly what happened at MSU during the Nassar years,” he wrote in the report.

“[They’re] never gonna know,” Forsyth said at a press conference today. “There’s nothing you can do to change that.”

In the midst of Nassar fallout, MSU made nearly $500 million in settlement payments to survivors and $8.5 million to a “healing assistance fund” meant to offer counseling services and other mental health help to survivors of sexual assault.

But the university has since decided to close that fund, after initially pledging to offer $10 million for it. Almost 1,500 people have signed a petition urging MSU to reinstate the healing assistance fund, including Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, one of the judges to sentence Nassar.

The Forsyth report said 11 MSU employees failed to report Nassar, yet sexual abuse reports date back “as far as 1997 and as recently as 2015.”

Sterling Riethman, a sexual assault survivor who endured Nassar’s abuse, reacted to the news on Twitter:

“I find it interesting to watch how many people have sincerely apologized to us with visible emotion, pain and sorrow, when it’s those same people who have nothing to apologize for. Yet the institution who can and should take responsibility only continues to hurt us more.”

But MSU defended itself in a statement today, highlighted that it is making campus reforms and again apologized to victims. A university spokeswoman also said the Forsyth report shows Schuette’s office has no new evidence to share regarding criminal prosecutions.

“We are extraordinarily sorry that Larry Nassar was on our campus and has hurt so many people. The university is engaged in — and investing in — an intense reform and cultural change effort to ensure that Michigan State University is a safe campus for students, faculty, staff and our community,” MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement shows that the attorney general’s office has found no criminal conduct beyond those formerly charged, even after reviewing more than a half million documents and interviewing 500 people,” she continued. “We appreciate the attorney general’s investigation and the hard work of the many people involved.”

Forsyth acknowledged that the president of a university is ultimately responsible for what happens on its campus, but said former Republican governor and current MSU interim president John Engler likely has nothing to do with shielding any information. He blamed MSU’s legal department, instead.

The investigator declined to offer any details about ongoing prosecutions against former MSU president Lou Anna Simon and other university employees, stating that the court proceedings are ongoing. As in any case, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, he said.

The team has reviewed a half-million pages of documents MSU turned over to the attorney general’s office. But many of them were “irrelevant” to the probe, the report said.

MSU pledged to be cooperative with the AG probe after the university asked Schuette’s office in January 2018 to open an investigation that could shed light on how Nassar got away with decades of sexual abuse under the pretense of legitimate medical treatment.

Lou Anna Simon

“Don’t say that you’re gonna cooperate with the investigation and then take that position,” Forsyth said. “It’s made it extremely difficult.”

At least two people who knew of the former university gymnastics doctor’s abuse still work at the university, Forsyth also revealed today. Both were athletics trainers. Forsyth also said that after Nassar’s prosecution they’ve learned of 50 more women and girls who had been abused.

In total, Nassar sexually assaulted more than 280 young girls, according to the attorney general’s office.

Schuette’s office charged Nassar with 10 counts of criminal sexual misconduct. An Ingham County judge handed Nassar a lifetime in prison after a federal judge previously gave him 60 years in federal prison for possessing some 37,000 images of child pornography.

Forsyth noted that before Nassar was sent to federal prison in Arizona, he instructed two investigators on his team to question the disgraced sports doctor. He said they wanted to find out if he would provide information on who at MSU might have helped him conceal decades of abuse.

Nassar was apparently unrepentant, stating, “‘I didn’t do anything criminal. I never criminally touched any of these women. It was a legitimate medical technique,’” according to Forsyth.

“Unfortunately, the university failed to live up to this pledge by: (1) issuing misleading public statements, (2) drowning investigators in irrelevant documents, (3) waging needless battles over pertinent documents and (4) asserting attorney-client privilege even when it did not apply,” the report said.

“These actions warrant extended discussion because they highlight a common thread we encountered throughout the investigation into how the university handled allegations against Nassar,” the report continued. “Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation.”

Neither Forsyth nor the report revealed any new details regarding further criminal charges in the ongoing investigation and prosecutions.

Forsyth will no longer be involved in the probe after his contract expires by the end of the month. Oversight of the investigation will then shift to Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel on Jan. 1, after Forsyth’s departure.

Simon was charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer regarding statements she allegedly made to police officers regarding the attorney general investigation.

Former College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel, Nassar’s boss, was charged with criminal misconduct in office, criminal sexual conduct and willful neglect of duty. Strampel allegedly failed to supervise Nassar, while the remaining charges stem from “his own personal, unrelated criminal conduct uncovered during our investigation,” the report said.

Former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages has also been charged with two counts of lying to a peace officer, stemming from denying to investigators that two survivors reported Nassar’s abuse to her, according to the report.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.