Ex-MSU athlete's suit alleges Nassar raped her, Perles covered it up

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Former Spartans head coach George Perles

Serial pedophile Larry Nassar videotaped the rape of a young field hockey player that led to her pregnancy in 1992 – and when her coach at Michigan State University complained about it, former athletic director George Perles intervened and covered it up, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

Nassar, who is now serving a de facto life sentence, admitted to sexually assaulting young women with his fingers while an MSU and USA Gymnastics sports doctor. But the lawsuit, filed by California resident Erika Davis, is the first to allege that Nassar raped someone through intercourse. 

Davis' suit alleges that she was 17 and seeking treatment for an injury when Nassar drugged her, raped her and filmed the assault. 

It is among 500 lawsuits filed against MSU and pushes back the timeline when reports of Nassar's sexual abuse allegedly reached the university.

Until now, former head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was thought to be the first MSU official to allegedly learn of Nassar's conduct when Larissa Boyce and another former gymnast told Klages in 1997 that he had abused them.

“This proves that not only did Defendant Michigan State University have knowledge that Defendant Nassar sexually abused and sexually assaulted minors, but that it would also go to great lengths to conceal this conduct,” according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. “Defendant Michigan State University could have stopped Defendant Nassar’s conduct back in 1992, but did not.

“Michigan State University could have prevented hundreds of young girls and women from being sexually assaulted by Defendant Nassar had they only acted appropriately, decently and lawfully in 1992.” 

Messages seeking comment on the lawsuit were left Tuesday with Perles, now a member of the MSU Board of Trustees, on his cellphone and with the trustees' office. 

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant issued a statement in response to the lawsuit. 

“We are deeply sorry for the abuses Larry Nassar has committed, and for the trauma experienced by all sexual assault survivors," Guerrant said. "Sexual abuse, assault and relationship violence are not tolerated in our campus community. While the protocols and procedures mentioned in this lawsuit do not reflect how sexual assault claims are handled at MSU, we are taking the allegations very seriously and looking into the situation.

"MSU is working diligently to create a campus community where all members feel safe to study and work free from the threat of sexual misconduct and relationship violence. At the same time, we want to make sure that when survivors of sexual assault or relationship violence come forward, they are treated with respect, listened to and that we provide the appropriate supports throughout the reporting process.”

Lawyers for Davis, Detroit-based Brian McKeen and New York-based Jordan Merson, were not available for comment Tuesday. 

Nassar's lawyer, Malaika Ramsey-Heath, also could not be reached. 

Merrily Dean Baker, MSU athletic director from 1992-95, said Tuesday she was confused by some of the timelines laid out in the lawsuit.

Baker, who succeeded Perles during the time frame of the incidents outlined in the complaint, said she did not hear about the case and did not know the coach who allegedly told the plaintiff to see Nassar.

"It is not going together for me, correctly, time-wise," said Baker. "I am not trying to say it didn't happen ... I am getting pinpricks of warning saying wait a minute, that doesn't fit together."

The suit comes two years after Rachael Denhollander publicly accused Nassar of sexual abuse, prompting hundreds of others to come forward with similar stories. The suit was filed as the deadline closed Monday for Nassar accusers to file claims with MSU as part of the school's $500 million settlement with 332 women who sued the university, alleging it failed to protect them.

Nassar is in a federal prison in Florida after pleading guilty to charges of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct and possession of child pornography.

At the end of Monday, Guerrant said, 168 additional lawsuits had been filed against the university since the historic agreement was reached in May, bringing the total number of suits against MSU to 500.
Davis, who is named in her suit against MSU, had repressed memories of the alleged rape until February 2018, when victims were speaking out about Nassar in court and she saw one of Nassar's training videos that she appeared in  on a local news station, according to the court filing.

"(Davis) suffers from anxiety, depression and a host of other issues, including a suicide attempt in 1993 and suicidal ideation at many other times," according to the lawsuit. "(She) avoided gynecological exams due to the trauma caused by Defendant Nassar. When Plaintiff Erika was finally persuaded to have a gynecological examination, she was told that she had been infected by the HPV virus which caused (Davis') cervical cancer."

Davis was on an NCAA scholarship at MSU when she went to see Nassar in the spring of 1992, the suit alleges.

At the time, Nassar was a student in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Davis met Nassar after her coach, Martha Ludwig, suggested that she see him after she twisted her knee. Ludwig knew Nassar through a mutual friend and told Davis that he needed athletes for a study he was conducting, according to the complaint.

The rape occurred, according to the court documents, after Nassar told Davis he was conducting a study on flexibility through MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. There was also a cameraman at the meeting, according to the suit. Davis asked how many people were in the study and Nassar told her that she would be the third but she had to be 18 to consent and her coach could consent for her since she was 17. 

“Nassar further inquired whether Plaintiff Erika had ever had a breast examination, and she had not,” according to the court documents. “Nassar asked her to remove her shirt and bra, which she did. ... During this time, the cameraman was filming Defendant Nassar’s sexual abuse of (Davis)."

Afterward, Nassar asked Davis to come back for a female exam in a week. When she came back, Nassar made Davis take a pill that he had crushed up but did not tell her what he had given her and she became drowsy soon after, according to the court documents. He used a camera to record the appointment, according to the documents.

“When she was less woozy a short time later, Plaintiff Erika witnessed Defendant Nassar raping her,” according to the court documents.

Davis was in pain and told two friends later that night and they agreed to go with her to police when she was ready.

Davis also told her coach, who confronted Nassar in his office in May 1992 and demanded the video, according to the court documents. 

The suit alleges Ludwig also complained to Perles, a renowned figure who was MSU's head football coach at the time.

“(Perles) intervened and the charges were dropped against the coach, but she was forced to return the video, resign and sign a non-disclosure agreement,” according to the court documents. “Upon information and belief, Coach Martha made and retained a copy of the videotape.”

Later in the summer, Davis had not had a period and informed a “dorm mom,” the suit says. So Davis took a pregnancy test that came back positive. 

“The only person who could have caused her to be pregnant was Defendant Nassar,” according to the court documents. “(The dorm mom) told Plaintiff Erika that she had been raped and should report what happened to the police."

A few weeks later, Davis suffered a miscarriage, the suit says.

Davis went to the MSU police department in October 1992. 

“The police told them that since she was an athlete, she had to report it to the athletic department,” according to the court documents. “The detective explicitly told them that he was powerless to investigate anything that takes place to the athletic department and to go to the athletic department. 

“(Davis) explained that the athletic department already dismissed it and the sergeant responded that George Perles is a ‘powerful man,’ and she should just drop it.”

But by that time, Baker was MSU's athletic director. She succeeded Perles on May 15, 1992, Guerrant said.

Davis stopped seeing Nassar after the incident.

Soon after, Davis’ scholarship was taken away, according to the court documents.

A Detroit News investigation found that at least 14 staff members at MSU received reports about Nassar's conduct over two decades.

But the lawsuit alleges there were two more who knew about Nassar: Perles and Ludwig. According to Detroit News archives, Ludwig resigned as field hockey coach within a year of Baker's hiring.

Efforts to reach Ludwig by phone and email Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Davis is not the first woman to accuse Nassar of abuse during his time as a medical student.

Sarah Klein, who recently revealed her identity during the ESPY awards, alleged in a lawsuit filed against MSU in April 2017 that Nassar assaulted her in the back room of now-closed Great Lakes Gymnastics in the Lansing area when she was 12 to 14 years old. Reached Tuesday, Klein said Nassar began abusing her in the late 1980s.

Nassar also asked Klein to go to his apartment for a study on manipulation treatments for his MSU medical degree, according to a lawsuit she filed against MSU.

Nassar told her he was measuring whether her muscles were more flexible when heated. He asked her to do the splits while lying on her stomach and measured the distance between her groin and the floor. He then asked her to get into a bathtub and repeated the process.

"Nassar told her that he could not pay her for participating in the study but that her ‘payment’ would be a full body massage from him,” during which he assaulted her, court records say.