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Ex-MSU gymnastics coach Klages charged in Nassar case

Kathie Klages

Former Michigan State University women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages has been charged with two counts of lying to a peace officer in connection with the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, the Michigan Attorney General's Office announced on Thursday.

Special Independent Counsel Bill Forsyth made the announcement, alleging Klages falsely denied to Michigan State Police detectives that she had been told prior to 2016 of Nassar’s sexual misconduct.

"While investigating how Larry Nassar was able to get away with sexually assaulting hundreds of individuals on and off Michigan State’s campus, Klages denied to Michigan State Police detectives having been told prior to 2016 of Nassar’s sexual misconduct," Forsyth said in a statement. "Witnesses have said that they reported Nassar’s sexual abuse to Klages dating back more than 20 years."

Klages is the fourth person to be charged in connection with the Nassar scandal, and the first from MSU's athletic department. 

The warrant charging Klages was authorized by Magistrate Laura Millmore in 54A District Court in Lansing,  and a $50,000 cash surety bond was set. Klages' attorney, Steven Stapleton, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

The charges are for both a four-year felony and a two-year misdemeanor.

Klages is expected to be formally arraigned before the end of the day on Friday.

Dionne Koller, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said she viewed Thursday’s charges against Klages as significant and said they send a “bold message.”

“These types of reports and these types of issues can’t be ignored…,” said Koller, who is also director for the university's Center for Sport and the Law. “If we can’t rely on sports regulators to safeguard our children and safeguard our young adults, prosecutors are going to do something about it.”

Koller said that statute of limitations tied the hands of prosecutors, leaving them with only so many options.

“These charges are significant in my mind because what we’re seeing is a coach being held accountable with the tools that the prosecutor had for essentially delaying justice that could have prevented serious harm,” she said. “I don’t read these charges as the prosecutor wanting to go soft on her. I read it more as the prosecutor wanted to send a message that her behavior was not OK in terms of lying to prosecutors.

"But they had to work within the confines of the law," Koller said. "The statute of limitations is very real, and there’s not much that you can do about that.”

Klages was one of 14 MSU representatives who received reports about Nassar abuse over the two decades before his arrest, according to a Detroit News investigation.

She was among the first to step down, in February 2017, after two former gymnasts filed lawsuits against MSU and other institutions, saying they had told Klages about Nassar in 1997.

Emily Guerrant, an MSU spokeswoman, said Klages is no longer an employee at the university and no one from the school was present when she gave statements to Michigan State Police.

"So we have no comment on what she told investigators or the charges announced today," Guerrant said. "MSU is committed to implementing changes for the fall semester that enhance prevention and education programming and establish new safety measures as well as increase resources and support for survivors of sexual assault."

Many of Nassar's survivors have said they might have been spared if Klages reported him years ago.

On Thursday, Lindsey Lemke, whose mother told Klages about Nassar after he was charged in late 2016 with possessing a hoard of child pornography, said she feels vindicated because many people called her names and accused her of lying.

“It’s relieving to see the truth come out,” said Lemke, a former gymnast and MSU student.

John Manly, a California-based lawyer who represented the majority of the more than 500 Nassar accusers, said the Attorney General's Office was likely unable to charge Klages on failure to report because the statute of limitations had passed.

“Look at all the harm that was done,” he said. “If she had spoken up and had someone investigated none of this would have happened.”

“It’s overdue and I am glad they did it,” Manly added.

Beside Klages and Nassar, others indicted in connection with the scandal are William Strampel, Nassar’s ex-boss and former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Debbie Van Horn, a trainer who worked with Nassar and elite gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas.

Manly commended Michigan authorities for taking the matter seriously and wondered why more haven't faced charges, including at USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, whose top officials knew about Nassar in July 2015 but didn’t inform MSU.

Instead, Steve Penny, former president and CEO of USAG, got a $1 million severance package and Scott Blackmun, former chief executive of the USOC, was allowed to retire, Manly said.

“The FBI should have started a comprehensive multi-jurisdiction investigation,” Manly said. “For whatever reason, they didn’t do their job. There needs to be answers.”

According to a police report that emerged early this year, when the first public allegations were made against Nassar in fall 2016, Klages made an emotional proclamation to the gymnastics team: She didn’t believe the claims of misconduct.

Klages held a team meeting and announced her support of Nassar on Sept. 12, 2016 — the same day the Indianapolis Star published a story in which Rachael Denhollander and another woman said the doctor had assaulted them years earlier.

Nassar, 55, sexually abused and sexually assaulted dozens of girls and young women over a 20-year period. 

Nassar was sentenced in Ingham and Eaton counties to 40-175 years and 40-125 years, respectively, for criminal sexual misconduct while a sports doctor at Michigan State University. He also was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges.

Shortly after Denhollander came forward and publicly accused him of sexual abuse in September 2016, MSU fired Nassar and he paid a local business to wipe all of the data from his laptop computer.

Strampel, the former dean of Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar's onetime boss, was the first to be charged criminally at MSU in Forsyth's investigation. He faces charges of felony misconduct in office, a misdemeanor charge of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree and two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty.

Authorities allege Strampel used his position of power to harass, proposition and sexually assault young women.

Strampel also allegedly failed to enforce or monitor protocols put in place for Nassar in 2014 after a female patient alleged inappropriate sexual conduct. Officials say he allowed Nassar to return to work one month before MSU completed a Title IX investigation into his behavior that cleared Nassar of wrongdoing.