MSU’s Nassar probe slow to talk to victims
The law firms hired to represent Michigan State University in the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal have interviewed only a few of the 148 victims involved in civil lawsuits — even though one of the firms has been working for the university for nearly 15 months.
Critics say that lack of outreach to the victims demonstrates the university’s disregard for uncovering how Nassar’s sexual abuse was allowed to continue unchecked for nearly two decades. University President Lou Anna Simon promised a thorough investigation last February.
Larissa Boyce was one of the first young women to tell an MSU employee about Nassar. Although she told her story publicly last March, she said she has heard from no one at the university.
“It’s infuriating because it shows they don’t want to know the truth,” said Boyce, 37, who said she told former head gymnastics coach Kathie Klagies about Nassar’s behavior in 1997. “It shows their negligence, and it’s frustrating because it feels like they are continuing to call me a liar, or say that I didn’t know what I was talking about... . They are calling all of us liars, and it’s re-victimizing us.”
A contract obtained by The Detroit News shows the scope of the engagement between MSU and one of the law firms, the $990-an-hour, Chicago-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Retained in October 2015, the scope of the firm’s work is to help the university “coordinate its response to the allegations of misconduct” concerning Nassar, the former MSU doctor who sexually abused dozens of young female gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.
MSU has said it is conducting a thorough investigation. But John Manly, a California-based attorney who represents 107 victims in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU and others, says that requires interviewing victims and witnesses and preparing a report.
Manly noted that former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the Skadden Arps attorney who led an MSU internal probe, recently told Attorney General Bill Schuette that there is no report of the firm’s investigation. That, Manly said, and the fact that few victims he represents have been interviewed, shows the lackluster investigation into the role MSU played in perpetuating the behavior of Nassar for nearly two decades.
“It casts serious doubt on the (Board of) Trustees and the administration’s commitment to finding the truth,” Manly said. “The victims and their families have been subjected to a series of misrepresentations and insults painted over with (public relations) rhetoric. What Michigan State is doing is what institutions do when they have something to hide.”
At the very least, said Okemos-based attorney Mick Grewal, MSU should have interviewed the women who publicly named university employees they informed of Nassar’s abuse years ago.
“There is no way a thorough investigation gets done unless all the survivors are interviewed by MSU, especially those who told MSU employees how Nassar abused them,” said Grewal, who represents 41 women in civil lawsuits and is aware of only a handful being interviewed.
The revelation that few victims have been interviewed by MSU comes as the university is under increasing scrutiny for its role in the scandal now that Nassar, 54, essentially received a life sentence when he received a 60-year term for possessing child pornography. He will be sentenced next month in Ingham and Eaton counties for 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct to which he pleaded guilty.
Sex-assault accusations against Nassar became public in fall 2016 and have since included nearly 150 young women. While he originally said he was innocent, Nassar recently pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in two counties, and also to possessing 37,000 images of child pornography.
Also representing the university is Detroit-based law firm Miller Canfield, which was retained in January, but the contract terms with MSU were not immediately available.
As the scandal was emerging last February, Simon wrote a letter to the community and said she had called for an internal review.
“The internal review I called for includes interviewing individuals and reviewing materials involving Nassar’s work at the university,” Simon wrote. “We have an external law firm advising us in that effort. I have made clear to those conducting the review that we will promptly take appropriate action in response to what we learn during the review. This tireless effort will continue as long as necessary.”
University spokesman Jason Cody said MSU police continue to investigate Nassar, as they have been since August 2016. There is also a “factual review being done by Skadden” that is ongoing, he said. He did not elaborate when asked about the process of interviewing victims.
“As we are in the middle of litigation on these very matters, it is not appropriate to discuss details,” he said.
He added that a new MSU police report had been released earlier this week that showed that 12 victims were assaulted after Nassar was cleared in a 2014 MSU investigation after a young woman complained.
After last week’s Board of Trustees meeting — when board members apologized, set up a $10 million fund to assist victims and invested $150,000 into a scholarship — Simon wrote another letter to the community. In it, she wrote, “this situation also reinforces the importance of taking a hard look at ourselves and learning from what happened — because it should never happen again.”
She outlined what the university has done, from reviewing programs to changing policies and procedures. She said that Fitzgerald has informed them that evidence will show “no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016.”
But Boyce said all they have to do is talk to her and other victims, and she will tell them that's not true.
“If they really wanted to find out what people knew, and when, they would have talked to us.”