Denhollander challenges Whitmer's handling of Nassar cases

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual assault, issued a statement Saturday challenging how the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office handled accusations from victims under Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer.

In a statement posted on social media Saturday afternoon, Rachael Denhollander said the Ingham County office, where Whitmer was interim prosecutor in 2016, chose not to prosecute Nassar.

Denhollander said the office, which Whitmer led as interim prosecutor for six months in 2016, chose not to prosecute Nassar. But Whitmer's colleagues say police didn't request charges against Nassar, while Whitmer said her office "acted swiftly and decisively to get the warrants that produced the evidence" that led to Nassar's conviction for possessing child pornography.

Read more: Nassar judge gets name removed from GOP attack ad, says 'politicizing' case 'appalling'

In her statement, posted on social media Saturday afternoon, Denhollander said the Michigan State Police provided her file and the files of several other survivors, including Kyle Stephens, to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office in October 2016. Stephens is Nassar's only known nonmedical victim, who he assaulted in the basement of his home on weekends while their families visited.

"I have first hand knowledge that (the files) had been reviewed and a decision had been made that the statute of limitations did allow for prosecution," Denhollander said. "I have the email communication where the ability to prosecute under the current statute of limitations was determined."

She added: "The Attorney General’s office was called because a decision had been made not to prosecute any sexual assault claims, including mine and Kyle Stephen’s, along with all other files as of October, 2016."

But Ingham County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Lisa McCormick said in a statement that the MSU police never sent a request to charge Nassar.

"It is categorically false to suggest otherwise," McCormick said. "As email records, public documents, and the county prosecutor's record management system confirm, the prosecutor's office never received police reports, warrant requests or witness lists from MSU’s police department that would have allowed county prosecutors to determine appropriate charges. There is no way for a prosecutor to charge someone without the warrant request, the witness list and the police report. It would be unethical to do otherwise.”

McCormick emailed The News a screenshot of the Ingham County Prosecutor's office record management system that listed a warrant request denial regarding Nassar on July 1, 2015, in addition to notations for medical reports, police reports and correspondence for that same date. The only other notations listed are police reports and correspondence, dated Jan. 25, 2018.

"This shows the only case that we received on Larry Nassar," McCormick wrote. "This is the 2014 case that came into our office on 7/1/2015 that was denied.  We did not receive a request to charge Larry Nassar when Gretchen Whitmer was Prosecutor."  

She also posted on Twitter Saturday a statement with a screenshot of an email from MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap to Scottie Barton, Whitmer's former secretary, who is now working on her campaign. 

"This email from 10/6/16 confirms what Chief Dunlap said yesterday, that all of the agencies worked together to bring Nassar to justice and get the maximum penalty under the law," McCormick tweeted. "To suggest anything different is simply not supported by the facts."

In a statement released by her campaign Saturday afternoon, Whitmer also defended her handling of the Nassar case and took aim at her opponent in the governor's race, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"At yesterday's press conference, I was joined by law enforcement officials and prosecutors who reaffirmed what Bridge Magazine's independent truth squad unequivocally reported: as Ingham County Prosecutor, my office acted swiftly and decisively to get the warrants that produced the evidence that led to Larry Nassar's first 60 year conviction," Whitmer said. "As a rape survivor myself, nobody will fight harder than I will to deliver justice for the survivors of sexual abuse. Bill Schuette and the Republicans should listen to what Nassar survivors requested yesterday and stop running ads that exploit and weaponize the Nassar case for political gain."

After Denhollander's statement was published, Schuette issued a statement.

"This new information confirms that Gretchen Whitmer chose not to prosecute Larry Nassar and did not tell the truth about it yesterday at her press conference," Schuette said. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer.

Denhollander's husband posted a Tweet supporting her statement.

"You don't get to throw them under the bus when they needed you most and then pretend to be their champion when you're running for office," Jacob Denhollander tweeted.

Denhollander's statement comes as Whitmer and Schuette have sparred over the handling of the scandal involving Nassar — the former longtime Michigan State University doctor who is serving a de facto life prison term after pleading guilty to charges of criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography.

Denhollander bemoaned that the case had become politicized in the upcoming election.

"We, and our stories, are not political pawns to be used by either side of the aisle," Denhollander said. "I sincerely hope that this will end. The only people who should bear (the) slogan 'tough enough to take on Larry Nassar' are the nearly 200 women who showed up in Eaton and Ingham County to testify and ensure the full breadth of Larry’s crimes were brought to light and punished accordingly."

Denhollander also said she hoped members of the state House who "claimed to support the legislative reform we sponsored, would re-consider whether those statements of support are accurate."

"A very few House members were truly supportive and many Senators were, and we are grateful to them for their stand," Denhollander said. "Others, particularly in the House, spoke support while directly undermining our efforts with MSU and insurance lobbyists behind the scenes. Some even intentionally forced their political opponents to not sponsor legislation when it originated in the Senate, in an effort to gain a political upper hand. I do know who those members are, and while I do not wish to be put in a position of making a statement again, I will if necessary."

In his role as the state attorney general, Schuette brought charges against Nassar and has been hailed for his efforts to bring justice for the hundreds of victims and to the former doctor, who committed crimes over more than two decades. With Schuette behind in the polls, the Michigan GOP this week issued an explosive campaign ad involving Nassar's victims, alleging Whitmer "refused to prosecute Larry Nassar on sexual assault charges."

On Friday, Whitmer held a press conference that included a few of Nassar's victims. Whitmer, who was sexually assaulted while a student at Michigan State, called on Schuette to ask the Michigan Republican Party to take down the online ad, calling it a “callous, craven” lie.

The Detroit News reported last year that  Dunlap suggested Whitmer was initially hesitant to charge Nassar for sexual assault when his department brought the first five or six cases to her in the fall of 2016 and that she instead wanted to focus on child pornography charges because they would be “relatively easy to convict on” but said the assault allegations could be “much more difficult to take to trial.” But Whitmer countered that characterization was “patently false.”

In her statement, Denhollander said Dunlap's statements in the article were correct. 

“It was pretty well established by our office at the front end that the priority was getting the criminal sexual assault (cases) charged so that everyone that came forward as a victim would have the ability to pursue their case,” Dunlap said at the time. “It wasn’t going to happen if we only charged the (child pornography) case and sent him to prison for a brief period of time.”

After Whitmer and another top county attorney discussed prosecution strategy in person, Whitmer emailed Dunlap and told him her team remained “eager to read any and all police reports you send our way.”

Whitmer and McCormick said MSU police took the cases to Schuette because the alleged crimes originated in multiple counties — Ingham and Eaton — making his state-level office best suited to lead the prosecution. It is a point Schuette noted when he agreed to review the cases.

"I referred it to my political opponent because it was the right thing to do, and for him now to accuse me of failing to prosecute Nassar is not spin. It's not an angle. It's a lie," Whitmer said previously. 

But Schuette said previously that Dunlap referred the case, not Whitmer

Denhollander's statement also addressed how the cases were referred to Schuette's office.

"This decision was not based on the existence of multiple jurisdictions or on a desire on the Ingham County Prosecutor’s part, to move the case to the AG’s office," Denhollander said. "The move to the AG’s office was initiated by the MSU PD alone, and only after the determination by the Ingham County office to not pursue charges for any sexual assault."

Zack Pohl, a spokesman for Whitmer's campaign, pointed to a statement the MSU police chief issued Friday.

In the statement, the chief said his department worked closely with Whitmer's office, Schuette's office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Michigan, which handled the federal child pornography charges.

“Those efforts were meant to achieve the best possible outcome for the survivors of Larry Nassar," he said, "and by all objective accounts those efforts were successful."

Denhollander said she made her statement because she had been asked repeatedly to clarify the facts around the steps that lead to the Nassar prosecution. .

"As the initial reporter of Larry’s crimes, an attorney, and a charged victim, I have been aware of the circumstances surrounding our case and the charges brought, long before this was a political issue, and before candidates had announced their bids for the race," Denhollander said. "I worked directly with those involved in the case from start to finish and know from these people, why certain decisions were made regarding the charges brought against Larry for the crimes he committed against me, these other women, and the children in the porn found on his computer."

John Manly, Denhollander's attorney, stood behind his client on Twitter.

"This is what happened," Manly tweeted. "It’s not political nor partisan. It’s just the facts."  

Denhollander said she is not supporting either candidate, and is more interested in sexual assault reform.

"I have, and will continue to, work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to advocate for legislative reform," Denhollander said. "Fighting for survivors and to protect the next generation transcends political lines. The question 'how much is a little child worth?' has no political affiliation.

"In the same way, what we have done, our stories, and our pain, was never intended to advance any candidates’ political goals. We did it because it was right."