Attorneys press MSU to release Nassar report

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

An attorney representing victims of disgraced Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar on Wednesday called for the resignation of President Lou Anna Simon if she doesn’t release an internal report about the scandal that unfolded in secret for decades.

“President Simon, release the report or resign,” said John Manly, a California-based attorney representing 105 alleged victims in Michigan and California civil lawsuits. “These young women and young girls deserve justice and they deserve to know who knew what when. And the truth is Michigan State is hiding that information. When institutions hide information, there is a reason.”

Manly made the comments after Nassar, who was also a physician for USA Gymnastics, pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County Circuit Court for digitally penetrating young athletes without a glove, lubricant or consent.

It was the first time that Nassar admitted guilt 15 months after young athletes, mostly gymnasts, came forward publicly to accuse him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of a medical treatment. Nassar also is scheduled to plead to three more counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County next week, for a total of 10 counts involving nine girls.

The pleas will allow him to avoid a trial that was set to start Dec. 4. Nassar will be sentenced on possession of 37,000 images of child pornography on Dec. 7.

But now Manly and two other attorneys representing victims and three victims say they want to see justice at MSU. They held a press conference to focus again on the need for an investigation into MSU’s role in one of the biggest scandals in sports history.

All said MSU administrators could have stopped Nassar if they had addressed complaints about him that emerged at the university in 1997 or they had followed Title IX mandatory reporting laws instead of fumbling a 2014 report that allowed him to escape scrutiny.

They also said MSU should release a $1 million taxpayer-funded report on an internal review of the Nassar scandal – saying MSU’s secret report contrasts with Penn State University’s response to the scandal surrounding Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of sexually abusing boys.

In a statement Wednesday, the university "unequivocally denies" accusations that it is engaged in a cover-up of misconduct.

"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," MSU spokesman Jason Cody said.

"As for the call for an independent investigation, the FBI and MSU Police Department conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct. The results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. We have no reason to believe that any criminal conduct was found."

About Nassar’s guilty plea, the university released a statement earlier.

“The plea deal and conviction of Larry Nassar on Nov. 22 on state criminal sexual conduct charges in Ingham County represents another important step toward justice for the victims,” Cody said. “As President Simon has said, we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret any time someone in our community experiences it. It takes tremendous courage for victims of sexual violence to come forward.”

But Rachael Denhollander — who opened a floodgate of allegations from dozens of other women when she reported Nassar to MSU police in fall 2016 and told her story to the Indianapolis Star — said she is tired of these responses from the university.

“This morning, I have a message for MSU: Your words of care and concern ring hollow, and I do not want to hear them any longer,” Denhollander said. “My greatest hope, the hope of every sexual assault victim, is that when they come forward their voice will matter, and they will be protected. The exact opposite happened. My greatest hope as a victim and a mother was to finally see someone in authority demonstrate true leadership by taking responsibility for failures, telling the truth and striving to do better.”

“... So long as you are unable to acknowledge past failures and the devastating consequences those failures had, you will continue to be an unsafe place for women and children.”

The state charges to which Nassar pleaded guilty are only a small part of scandal: More than 140 women have filed civil lawsuits against him and more than 100 have complained to MSU officials. Several Olympic champion gymnasts also have spoken on social media, including three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who said Tuesday on Instagram that she had been assaulted by Nassar.

Others who spoke with Denhollander include Lindsey Lemke, a current member of the MSU women’s gymnastics team, and Kaylee Lorincz, an 18-year-old Adrian College gymnast who is spoke out publicly for the first time.

“As I try to put the pieces of my life together,” Lorincz said, “I’m trying to understand how I was ever seen by Larry Nassar since there had been so many reports made to different people at MSU and USA Gymnastics. It makes me angry and upset that MSU didn’t do a better job of protecting me. How could they let this happen to me and so many other girls?”

The call for MSU accountability from the three gymnasts will come after months of calls for transparency about MSU’s role in the Nassar scandal.

“With (Nassar) coming forward and admitting to what he did, what is MSU going to do?” said Larissa Boyce, who told former MSU head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in 1997 she felt uncomfortable with Nassar’s treatments but wasn’t believed.

Boyce did not speak at the press conference but shared similar sentiments of others who have alleged Nassar abused them, and how MSU needed to hold those accountable who allowed his abuse to last so long.

“What are the enablers going to do in response to this?” Boyce continued. “Are they going to be held accountable? That is a huge question in my mind. MSU knew back in 1997 but I was told that I was wrong. Are they going to come forward and accept the responsibility they had by turning a blind eye or being culpable to allowing this to happen for so long?”

“We don’t have answers about why (MSU officials) aren’t being held accountable like they were at Penn State,” Boyce said. “What’s different? Is it because we’re girls?”