Prosecutor: Simon lied about knowledge of Nassar

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Lou Anna K. Simon arrives for her pretrial hearing Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Michigan, before District Court Judge Julie Reinke.

Charlotte — What Lou Anna Simon knew about serial pedophile Larry Nassar, and when she knew it, is at the heart of a preliminary hearing for the former Michigan State University president that began Tuesday in an Eaton County courtroom.

Attorneys for Simon, who is charged with lying to police investigating the Nassar scandal, hotly denied that she knew in 2014 about a Title IX complaint filed against the MSU sports doctor by Amanda Thomashow. 

"Lies!" said Mayer Morganroth, a well-known defense lawyer who has represented clients such as John DeLorean and Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian.

But Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter said an email, handwritten notes, a folder, an agenda item and an entry on Simon's calendar will show that the former MSU president discussed the 2014 sexual assault investigation into Nassar during a May meeting with Paulette Granberry Russell, who then was in charge of the Title IX office.

"The defendant's statement was not only false and misleading — she said she didn't know the name Nassar and didn't know the nature and substance of the complaint," said Teter. "But the evidence will show that she was a hands-on, engaged, detail-oriented manager who required direct reports to keep her advised of the situations that could make MSU look bad."

Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter presents his opening statement in former Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon's pretrial hearing Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Michigan.

The hearing, which is scheduled to continue on April 8, 9 and 16, will determine whether Simon, 71, stands trial on four counts of lying to a peace officer — two felonies and two misdemeanors. The felony charges carry up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Simon declined comment after Tuesday's session, conducted by District Judge Julie Reincke.

The one witness who testified Tuesday was Thomashow, who recounted how she saw Nassar on March 24, 2014, at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic for hip pain because of a cheerleading injury. 

Simon's lawyers objected to her testimony, arguing that it was going to put MSU on trial, not Simon. But Reincke allowed her testimony.

Thomashow said her first appointment with Nassar, who was known for treating Olympic gymnasts, lasted 1 1/2 hours. Toward the end, he sent a female resident out of the room.

Thomashow said Nassar had her turn on her side, put pressure on her shoulder,  then eventually manipulated her breast for nearly a minute.

"What do you do?" she testified. "This is the Olympic healer and he is massaging my breast."

Eventually, Nassar started to massage her with three fingers in a circular motion on her labia, Thomashow said. She told him to stop but Nassar said he was almost done.

Then, Thomashow said, he went to the corner of the exam room, where she believed he was hiding so his erection would subside before he talked to her.

He kept insisting that she make another appointment, and told her not to worry if she was on her period, Thomashow said.

She said she reported the incident to Jeff Kovan, an MSU sports medicine doctor.

After that, Thomashow testified, she was called by Kristine Moore, an MSU attorney who interviewed her about her appointment with Nassar.

She testified she met with Moore in person with Valerie O'Brien of the Michigan State Police Department. Then, in July 2014, Thomashow met again with Moore for what she thought was a follow-up on her complaint.

"She told me she was so sorry but there was nothing more they could do," Thomashow said.

She also testified that she did not exchange written or verbal information with Simon about Nassar and what happened during the exam. 

Upon cross-examination, Lee Silver, Simon's other attorney, asked Thomashow if she had forwarded the Title IX report to Simon. Thomashow replied that it was not her job. Silver also asked if, to the best of her knowledge, Simon did not receive the report.

"To the best of my knowledge," Thomashow said, "I would assume that the president of a university that touts the fact that they are great at handling sexual assault, especially after Lou Anna's 2012 speech about mandated reporters and her reaction to Penn State, I would assume that if their big money-making doctor assaulted one of her students, she would know."

Silver said he appreciated Thomashow's assumption, then he asked her if she was aware of anybody who gave Simon her report.

"Not personally," Thomashow said.

In his opening statement, Teter said Moore and Granberry Russell were career employment lawyers and neither had training in law enforcement, victim interviewing or prosecution.

"All of their training was to protect MSU," said Teter.

Concluding his statement, he commented on a motive for Simon.

"Why did the defendant lie?" Teter said. "Because, as I have said, MSU's image and reputation and the defendant's legacy are being scrutinized. If MSU looks bad, the defendant looks bad."

He added that if Simon admitted that she had known in 2014, the university could have done more to stop Nassar and spared 60 young women who were sexually assaulted between 2014 and 2016, when he was apprehended. 

But Morganroth said none of the allegations against Simon are true.

"The amount of lying that has been done is overwhelming, but not by Lou Anna Simon, but by the prosecution and detectives," he said. 

He said Simon explained MSU's standard practice for conducting investigations of sexual assault complaints during a May 2018 interview with Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. William Arndt.

"I'mnot involved," Morganroth said, quoting Simon. "It has to be straightforward, with no political pressure by me whatsoever. I do not get involved until there is a finding by the prosecution." 

Morganroth said MSU referred the Nassar allegation to Michigan State Police, which referred the case to prosecutors with a recommendation that Nassar be charged. Morganroth said prosecutors decided there was no merit and that Simon is being prosecuted to protect the officials who failed to filed charges.

Lou Anna K. Simon talks with defense attorney Mayer Morganroth during her pretrial hearing Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Michigan.

Morganroth also told the judge that Granberry Russell said in several interviews under oath that she did not remember meeting with Simon in May 2014 regarding the Thomashow complaint, and if she did, it was by telephone.

It only gets stranger, Morganroth said, as he questioned the relevancy of why Simon was interviewed in 2018 when Nassar had already pleaded guilty, was in prison and a full investigation had been conducted. 

"What do they do, they come and interview Lou Anna Simon," Morganroth said. "With no reason to. What are they gaining from it? I'll tell you what they are gaining. There was an election going on. The attorney general is a man running for office that a woman was running for, the governor, and everything seemed to be woman-weighted because of the fact of all the things that happened to these woman."

After the two-hour hearing, Morganroth said the charges and the hearing is "all a game." 

"There was no purpose in that whatsoever except to try and throw crap against the wall, said Morganroth. "Because the more you throw, maybe something will stick. It's all crap."

But Dan Olsen, a spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General Office, said investigators "did not take these charges lightly."

"We are committed to the facts," Olsen said. "We are going where the facts take us and are committed to the truth."