Advance Notice: Briefs

MSU hires outside firm for new Nassar investigation

By: - June 24, 2019 1:34 pm

“Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit at MSU, April 16, 2019 | Derek Robertson

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced last week that it’s hired a private firm to investigate how the university handled the sexual assault complaints against former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

The board unanimously voted on Friday to hire the Chicago-based firm McDermott Will & Emery for the task. Nassar is now serving what amounts to a lifetime prison sentence for sexual assault and child pornography convictions.

Larry Nassar stands as he is sentenced by Judge Janice Cunningham for three counts of criminal sexual assault in Eaton County Circuit Court on February 5, 2018 in Charlotte, Michigan. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

MSU’s decision comes more than two years after the launch of a previous internal investigation in 2016, led by former federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Its results were never made public. 

The former lead Nassar-MSU investigator for the Michigan attorney general’s office, William Forsyth, has slammed the university for making it “virtually impossible to know exactly what happened at MSU during the Nassar years,” as the Michigan Advance reported.

Attorney General Dana Nessel criticized the board’s new move in a statement issued Friday, saying the university “lacks lacks the credibility necessary to conduct a legitimate investigation.

“Unsurprisingly, it has cleared its employees of culpability each time,” Nessel continued. “There is only one way for MSU to regain the public’s trust and that is to waive its privilege and disclose all information in its possession about Larry Nassar to the Department of Attorney General. In other words, the University should leave the job of investigating to the professionals.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

A spokesperson for MSU declined to respond to Nessel’s statement.

At a public meeting, Trustee Brian Mosallam said he and other board members “have decided to rip off the Band-Aid,” as the Detroit Free Press reported. “There will be accountability.”

According to the Free Press, the board discussed the decision with Nassar survivors Rachael Denhollander, Sarah Klein and Sterling Riethman before it was formally approved.

In addition to how university employees dealt with the Nassar case, the firm will look into how MSU handles sexual assault claims more broadly.

Denhollander tweeted on Friday that she appreciates Nessel “very much, but she was not involved in this process and does not know what has been negotiated.

“No one is backing off the push to waive privilege, but we need this. I have worked directly with the board, and I support this step.”

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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.