Klages to be tried on lying charges in Nassar case

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lansing Kathie Klages, the former longtime Michigan State University gymnastics coach, will stand trial on two charges of lying to a peace officer in connection with the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, a judge ruled Thursday.

Kathie Klages, left, at her preliminary examination Sept. 27, 2018 in the court of Judge Louise Alderson in Lansing.  Klages is facing two counts of lying to a peace officer during the investigation of Larry Nassar's sexual crimes against female athletes.

Judge Louise Alderson, the chief judge of 54-A District Court in Lansing, made the ruling during a preliminary exam in which three witnesses testified.

Two of those witnesses said they told Klages about Nassar decades ago and that she did nothing, followed by an investigator who testified that she lied about it this year.

Klages is thought to be the first person allegedly told about Nassar’s abuse in 1997.

Her lawyer, Lansing-based Mary Chartier, argued that Klages told the truth when she said over and over again that she didn't remember the alleged reports from 1997 when was interviewed in June 2018 by David Dwyre, an investigator with the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

But Alderson ruled that enough evidence existed to bind Klages over to circuit court to face the charges, which were filed after Dwyre interviewed two former gymnasts who allege they told Klages about Nassar, a serial sex offender, in 1997. During the investigator's interview with Klages, the former coach denied their accounts. 

It's important to look to 1997 because it established a baseline, Alderson said, and the two witnesses gave testimonies that she characterized as specific, clear and credible, even though they were 16 and 14 at the time when they allegedly told Klages about Nassar when they were called in and questioned about him.

"They reported the abuse, they reported the allegations and specifically with Ms. (Larissa) Boyce, she reported that she was intimidated not to report further, she was not encouraged to file a report, she was embarrassed, humiliated, she felt dirty after this action," Alderson said. "As far as she was aware, there was no further action on this issue to her parents, to MSU, to the gymnastics (community)."

Then, in 2018 when Klages was interviewed by an investigator examining MSU's role in the Nassar scandal, she said that no gymnast in 26 1/2 years had reported abuse to her prior to the first public accusation of Nassar in September 2016.

Alderson said Dwyre testified that the investigation could have taken a different turn "had they had Ms. Klages confirmation about the instances that happened in 1997."

Afterward, Chartier said: "We are prepared to fight this out at trial. I believe Mrs. Klages is innocent."

The charges against Klages are part of the attorney general's ongoing investigation into what happened at the state's largest university that allowed Nassar, a former doctor, to sexually abuse scores of young women for so long.

She is the fourth person to be charged in connection with the Nassar scandal, and the first from MSU's athletic department.  A Detroit News investigation found Klages was one of at least 14 MSU representatives who received reports of Nassar's conduct over two decades.

Nassar has admitted he sexually abused young female athletes, many of them gymnasts, under the guise of treatment over more than three decades and is now incarcerated with sentences that will keep him imprisoned for the remainder of his life. Many of his accusers say that if Klages had reported him in 1997, they might have been spared. 

Klages abruptly retired from Michigan State after 27 seasons in February 2017, after two former gymnasts filed lawsuits against MSU and other institutions, saying they had told Klages about Nassar 20 years earlier.

Many of the women victimized by Nassar attended the hearing and said afterward they were happy that Klages is heading to trial. 

"This is the appropriate step," said Kaylee Lorincz. "Just like Kathie is not going to get away with this, neither will anybody else."

Added Alexis Alvarado, a former youth gymnast: "Kathie is not above the law. We are holding her accountable and these are the steps that need to be taken. Anyone else who has covered up or lied, they are going to be held accountable. And they know who they are."

Of the two charges that Klages faces, one is a felony and the other is a misdemeanor, with prison sentences of up to four and two years, respectively, and a $5,000 fine.

Testifying during the hearing was Boyce, who has said she warned Klages in 1997 when she was a 16-year-old high school gymnast in the Spartan Youth Program, a gymnastics program administered by Klages at the Jenison Field House at MSU.

Boyce, 37, said Thursday that Nassar abused her by penetrating her without gloves. She said she informed Klages months later in the coach's office.

Boyce testified that she told Klages "what Larry Nassar was doing to me was making me feel uncomfortable. His fingers are going inside of me."

She testified that she told Klages twice about what Nassar was doing to her on that day, saying to her: "It felt like he was fingering me."

Klages told Boyce she must be mistaken, that she had known Nassar for years, and he would never do anything inappropriate, Boyce testified.

After Boyce told Klages about Nassar, Boyce said Klages told her that she could file something but "there would be very serious consequences for me and Larry."

Another witness, a 36-year-old woman who remained anonymous, corroborated Boyce's story. The two first discussed Nassar while at Boyce's home, while on a trampoline. Boyce told her that Nassar was putting his hands up her shorts during treatments,

"I said yes, that exact same thing was happening to me," the witness testified.

She said that when she told Klages that Nassar assaulted her, Klages said they weren't going to talk about it anymore.

"She said that he was a very good doctor and I was very lucky to see him," the witness testified. "All her college students saw him and if he was doing that, it was to help my back."

But Chartier argued that what happened in 1997 was not the issue. The issue at hand was the question of whether Klages lied to investigators.

Chartier said Klages didn't lie; she didn't remember.

"To say this woman lied to this detective and impeded his investigation is false," Chartier said.

She added that Klages told investigators she sent her children and her granddaughter to see Nassar.

"You think she honestly think she is going to put her daughter or granddaughter at risk?" Chartier said while the court was on a break. "I just don't know any mother or grandmother who would do that."

But Bill Rollstin, first assistant attorney general, countered that the issue was about Nassar, who sexually assaulted scores of young women over nearly three decades.

"If she had done the right thing in 1997," Rollstin said, "Larry Nassar wouldn't have had the reach that he had."