Rachael Denhollander: 'MSU officials silenced' Larry Nassar's victims

Larry Nassar latest

LANSING, MICH. - On Wednesday, less than an hour after Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to seven sexual assault charges, the calls for independent investigations of MSU officials were renewed. 

Those calls came from many, including Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault. Her story, reported by the Indianapolis Star in September 2016, sparked more than a hundred women and girls to come forward. 

In more than a year since that first story, allegations have emerged that officials at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked for nearly 20 years, knew about concerns but took no action. 

Calls for an independent investigation about who knew what and when at MSU have been ongoing for nearly a year. In February, more than 100 university faculty members called for an outside investigation of Nassar. Michigan State's own police department has been conducting the investigation into Nassar. The university has been paying attorneys, some charging $990 an hour, to represent it in the civil lawsuits related to Nassar or handle internal reviews.

Both state Attorney General Bill Schuette and MSU President Lou Anna Simon have rebuffed the idea of an independent investigation.

"For decades, MSU and (USA Gymnastics) athletic trainers, supervisors, head coaches and even psychologists received first-hand testimony of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Larry," Denhollander said during a news conference following Nassar's plea hearing. "Each and every time, MSU officials silenced these victims.

"Larry continued to have access to little girls for decades, and MSU officials continued to hold him up as the best of the best. To use him as a marketing tool for bringing talented athletes into their program, and paying medical patients into the school. And this continued until the day I came forward."

Nassar also worked with USA Gymnastics as a doctor for several women's Olympic teams. 

Nassar pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to sexually assaulting Denhollander and six other women. Denhollander is also among the more than 140 women and girls who have filed lawsuits agaisnt MSU, USA Gymnastics and Nassar. 

John Manly, a California attorney, represents many of those women and girls. During the news conference Wednesday he said MSU President Lou Anna Simon should either release findings from the university's internal investigations or resign.

“These young women and these young girls deserve justice, and they deserve to know who knew what, when," Manly said. "And the truth is, Michigan State is hiding that information. And when institutions hide information there's a reason. Lou Anna Simon was the president of the NCAA when Penn State happened, and praised Penn State's decision to hire Louis Freeh and do an independent investigation. The only investigation of Michigan State in this case that's occurred, is by their own attorneys. In my experience, your own attorneys rarely find you guilty.”

“As they have done before, today the plaintiffs’ attorneys have made accusations against the university claiming it is engaged in a ‘cover up of misconduct by university administrators.’ The university unequivocally denies this accusation. Moreover, MSU has consistently promised if it were to find any employee knew of and acquiesced in Nassar’s misconduct, the university would immediately report it to law enforcement.

Cody also said the FBI, in conjunction with MSU's own police department, conducted a joint investigation this year focused on "whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct." He added that the results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, and "We have no reason to believe that any criminal conduct was found."

The State Journal could not confirm that claim with the U.S. Attorney's Office late Wednesday.

Cody said the university did not disclose that investigation or that it was sent to federal prosecutors prior to Wednesday because "...ongoing criminal and civil litigation limited our ability to discuss that."

A gag order in the Eaton County case is still in place. Nassar's criminal cases in federal and local courts are ongoing and federal lawsuits remain pending.

The news conference, held Radisson Hotel in downtown Lansing, was held by Denhollander, Manly, and two other women who say Nassar abused them and two additional civil attorneys. 

The women and their attorneys believe MSU could have prevented more than 100 women and girls from being abused if it hadn't ignored complaints about Nassar early as 1997 and if it didn’t mishandle a 2014 Title IX investigation into a sexual assault claim. That investigation cleared Nassar of any wrongdoing.

"I am grateful for the army of women that has stopped a pedophile," Denhollander said.

But Denhollander said victims have "yet to hear the truth" from MSU, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Between 1997 and 2015 at least seven women or girls say they raised concerns about Nassar's actions to coaches, trainers, police or university officials. He was investigated twice by police but never charged.

Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said his office is prosecuting Nassar and directed questions about potential wrongdoing by others at MSU to attorneys the university has hired to help it navigate the fallout from the Nassar case, including defending it against civil lawsuits.

On Wednesday, Megan Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for Schuette's office, declined to comment on calls for Schuette to investigate current and former university officials. She cited a gag order still standing in the Eaton County case. 

Dating back to last year, MSU has said it investigates all allegations of misconduct related to Nassar, and refers them to either the university police department or to attorneys handling the internal reviews.

In February, then MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages retired a day after she was suspended for the way she handled a team meeting about the Nassar allegations. However, two women have said that in 1997, when they were teens, they raised concerns about Nassar to Klages, who discouraged them from filing a report.

Another woman has said in lawsuit that she told three MSU trainers about Nassar from 1998 to 2000, but nothing was done.

In its 2014 Title IX investigation, the university relied on three medical experts who each worked for MSU and had close ties to Nassar. MSU won't reopen that investigation, in part, officials said because the woman who made the complaint is suing the university. It had previously told her it would reopen the investigation if she wanted. 

The 2014 Title IX investigation has been a focus of much criticism, specifically the role William Strampel, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine where Nassar worked.

Strampel regularly checked in on the status of the investigation when it was ongoing, voiced his support for Nassar and told Nassar he could return to clinical work before the investigation concluded. After the investigation ended, Nassar and Stampel reached an agreement on new protocols Nassar was to required abide by. That agreement, however, didn't include a followup mechanism to ensure Nassar was compliant.

Additionally. records show that Nassar specifically recommended that the university’s investigator use one of the experts that backed him agaisnt the sexual assault claim.

That expert, Dr. Brooke Lemmen, resigned in March while the university was considering firing her after she removed "several boxes of confidential treatment records" from MSU's Sports Medicine Clinic at Nassar's request, according to university records. 

Larissa Boyce is one of the women who say they told Klages in 1997.

"I think that that’s a cop out,” she said of a statement MSU released following the plea hearing. "Multiple people at MSU were told about it or knew about. … It wasn’t just him. MSU is trying to push the blame just on him."

Boyce added that she wants the university to own up and say they were at fault, and to release documents related to the internal investigations related to Nassar.  

"It makes me think that they’re hiding something and they know that people knew about it and did nothing," she said. 

With the exception of Nassar, who was fired for not following the protocols put in place after the 2014 investigation, Klages and Lemmen are the only two university employees MSU initiated any administrative actions against related to Nassar.  

"Clearly, Michigan State has a culture of secrecy," Manly, the attorney suing MSU, said during the Wednesday press conference. "And they don't get it. If you want to stop this, come clean. Fix what happened, get rid of those that did it and move forward."

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© Lansing State Journal


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