An attorney who represented disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar is drawing ire for interview remarks in which she questioned some of the victims who have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault.
The comments from Shannon Smith on Thursday prompted a swift response from Nassar, who sought to distance himself from his attorney’s remarks, saying he did not authorize her comments.
Speaking to WWJ Newsradio 950 on Thursday, Smith told the interviewer a “huge part” of her does not believe everyone who alleges Nassar abused them.
“There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations,” Smith was recorded as saying. “Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.”
Smith told the station she believes some accusers appear to have been swayed by how the case was “spun out of control” during news coverage.
“I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it. I just can’t imagine that’s true,” she said in the interview.
Smith did not immediately respond to a request by The Detroit News for comment Thursday.
Nassar said in his statement Thursday: “As I have repeatedly said under oath, the plea agreements are accurate and I have, through my lawyers, asked that the court follow them,” his statement read. “I have heard each and every impact statement made by the victims in my cases. Their words have been meaningful, they have pierced my soul and I will carry their words with me for the rest of my life. I am sorry about this distraction at a time when the attention should be on the statements of these victims.”
More than 150 women delivered victim impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing in Ingham County Circuit Court. A judge has sentenced him to 40-175-years in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
At least 65 more women have been scheduled to testify or submit written statements during Nassar’s sentencing hearing for three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct before Eaton County Judge Janice K. Cunningham.
On Thursday, Smith told WWJ she believes Nassar “comes off as a really great person. There is no doubt he did a lot of good for a lot of his patients. While people are criticizing the techniques he used, there is undeniably proof that those techniques would take a girl who came into his office unable to walk and fix her in a way that she was able to compete the next day. So, I see good in Larry Nassar.”
Within hours, the comments sparked outcry from some of Nassar’s victims.
Lindsey Lemke, a former MSU gymnast from Holt, wrote on Twitter: “Where were the gloves? Where was the parental consent? Where was the extra colleague in the room? Where was the part where told me what treatment he was about to perform on my 12 year old body? Oh...absent. That’s right...175 years.”
Rachael Denhollander, whose 2016 Michigan State University police report, Title IX complaint and Indianapolis Star interview led to Nassar’s downfall, denounced Smith’s remarks.
“The level of willful ignorance displayed by Shannon Smith, ignorance of medical procedure, ignorance of the dynamics of sexual assault, and ignorance of her own client, is beyond the pale,” she said in a statement Thursday. “It was clear during court appearances, as she was taking photos and posing for the press, that sexual assault was nothing more than an opportunity for a photo op and self-promotion. She proves that again today. Fortunately, nothing Ms. Smith says is capable of changing the truth, and the truth is readily apparent for anyone who wishes to know.”
Smith’s comments “re-victimized these brave women and disparaged the judicial process under which Nassar pled guilty to his crimes,” said attorney John Manly, who represents Denhollander and more than 120 others who have filed civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU and USA Gymnastics.
“Her statements are a clear message to sexual assault victims that when they stand up to their accuser and report his crimes, they will be attacked and disbelieved. Smith’s comments are deplorable and calculated to discourage additional Nassar victims from coming forward. The brave actions of Rachael Denhollander, and her sister survivors, have proven Shannon Smith to be wrong.”