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More with MSU ties named in Nassar lawsuit

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Several individuals with ties to Michigan State University were added to a lawsuit against former MSU Dr. Larry Nassar, alleging they could have stopped the alleged sexual abuse of dozens of athletes over two decades.

An amendment to a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that five individuals knew about Nassar’s alleged behavior, some as early as 1997, but failed to act. Those named in the suit: former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel, Sports Medicine Clinic director Jeff Kovan, former MSU clinical psychologist Gary Stollak and Twistars USA Gymnastics Club owner John Geddert.

“As our investigation continues, it has become abundantly clear that many survivors and their families rightfully blame Michigan State University and their employees, such as coach Klages and Dean Strampel, for failing to disclose the fact that Dr. Nassar was accused of sexual assault multiple times,” said Mick Grewal, an Okemos-based attorney representing 12 athletes in the lawsuit that was amended.

“If coach Klages just followed the proper protocol and reported the sexual assault incidents in 1997, the additional sexual assaults by Nassar could have been prevented.”

The latest legal developments come as MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis recently reached out in writing to 2,900 current and former athletes dating back to the 1990s, telling them how to report sexual assault.

“The MSUPD will follow up on all relevant information it receives,” Hollis wrote in a March 2 letter.

Nassar, 53, was a highly regarded physician at MSU and USA Gymnastics until September, when allegations emerged that he treated injured athletes with a procedure that involved him digitally penetrating female patients without a glove, lubricant or consent.

Since then, civil filings against the osteopathic doctor have grown to include about 60 females. MSU police also are investigating more than 90 complaints.

Nassar is being held without bond and awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person younger than 13, punishable by up to life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

Nassar’s attorney, Matt Newburg, declined comment Wednesday.

Until Wednesday, the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, only named Nassar as an individual defendant. Also named as defendants are MSU, its Board of Trustees and USA Gymnastics and Twistars, whose officials referred athletes to Nassar’s care.

“We take all allegations, raised either via victims reporting to police or by legal motions, very seriously,” MSU spokesman Jason Cody said. “MSU Police are investigating all criminal allegations thoroughly, and any findings would be referred to the appropriate prosecutor for review.”

All the individuals now named are people who were told about Nassar’s alleged behavior and were required to report to the authorities but failed to do so, attorneys said.

“There are certain people who have the higher duty to report (suspicion of sexual assault), such as a medical professional, a mental health provider, a clergy, a coach, a teacher,” said David Mittleman, an Okemos-based attorney who is representing several Jane Does in the case against Nassar.

“They didn’t report and they were told in 1997 and early 2000 (about Nassar’s behavior), and didn’t tell anybody else and should have. They did something that was wrong.”

Among the earliest complaints against Nassar came in 1997 or 1998 came when an underage female gymnast told Klages about concerns she had with Nassar’s “treatment,” according to the suit.

“Klages convinced the participant not to file a formal complaint because Klages intimidated the participant by stating there would be serious consequences to her (the participant) and Nassar,” the suit says.

According to the suit, after Klages was informed about Nassar’s alleged conduct, she asked at least one other athlete if Nassar had performed the “procedure.” The athlete told the coach that Nassar had, and Klages allegedly told her there was “no reason to bring up Nassar’s conduct,” the suit says.

Klages resigned in February after 27 seasons when a second woman revealed she had complained to Klages about Nassar’s behavior but was ignored. Her attorney, Shirlee Bobryk, could not be reached.

In 1998, a parent of a gymnast at Twistars’ gymnastics facility complained to gym owner Geddert about Nassar’s conduct, according to the suit, “yet the concerns and allegations went unaddressed.”

But a statement from Twistars said: “We had zero knowledge of any of the allegations against Dr. Nassar, who was never an employee of Twistars. Our hearts go out to the women who have spoken up and, like everyone else, we are sickened to the core by their stories.”

Two other athletes complained in 1999 and 2000 to MSU employees, the complaint says.

“Because MSU took no action to investigate the ... complaints and took no corrective action, from 2000 to 2016, under the guise of treatment, several plaintiffs were also sexually assaulted, abused and molested by defendant Nassar,” the suit says.

A minor female patient allegedly told Stollak, a retired clinical psychology professor, that she had been abused by Nassar but he did not report it, the suit says. Stollak could not be reached for comment. Kovan and Strampel also could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, between 2014-15 when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights was conducting an investigation into how MSU had handled sexual misconduct complaints, a complaint against Nassar emerged in 2014 that he sexually assaulted someone seeking care for hip pain.