Report: Detectives believed Nassar over victim in failed investigation
Okemos — Meridian Township Police failed in 2004 to stop serial pedophile Larry Nassar because they believed him over a victim who had reported him, a repeated theme of a report released Tuesday.
Meridian Township officials say they plan to help change a culture of not believing victims and announced their efforts to expand their work to train the community and officers statewide during a press conference.
"Think of all the victims who were sexually assaulted after 2004," Township Manager Frank Walsh told The Detroit News prior to the press conference. "All of us live with that every day. That's a heavy burden. Our work doesn't stop today or tomorrow. Our work continues for years to come."
At the press conference, Walsh added: "We don't expect this report to be closure for Brianne, but we do hope it's a pathway to healing."
Meridian Township Police Chief Ken Plaga said the department continues to train sworn police officers in investigating sexual assault reports and have developed an outreach program on sexual assault education.
"We can never let something like this happen again," he said.
Brianne Randall-Gay, who was one of the earliest women to report Nassar, repeated a similar theme in a statement on the department's response to its failure. The handling of her case prompted the department's review.
"My hope is that other institutions take similar steps in accountability and transparency," Randall-Gay said. "The purpose of this investigation was to gain a better understanding of what transpired in order to provide me closure and identify errors that the township could correct to ensure that this does not happen again."
Randall-Gay, who was a high school soccer and tennis player, went to Meridian Township police on Sept. 17, 2004, after leaving her second visit with Nassar for back pain. She reported he had touched her bare breast and put his hand between her legs, but police closed the case soon after and Nassar wasn't brought to justice until more than a decade later.
Nassar, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and child pornography charges in three courts in 2017, is serving a de facto life sentence.
Police apologized to Randall-Gay last year but she asked several more questions, prompting the investigative report. Included in the report is a letter she wrote, saying that the investigation was not to find fault with the department.
"My goal is to gain an understanding of what transpired in my case so that I can continue my healing process," she wrote.
In the final investigative report, Sgt. Andrew McCready, then a detective, outlined the aftermath of the interview of Nassar with Detective Bart Crane.
"It was as a result of that interview, McCready stated he did not pursue further explanation of the procedure because he 'believed his (Nassar's) lies,' according to the report. "Specifically, McCready believed that Nassar was performing a legitimate medical procedure."
McCready did not consult his supervisor or anyone else in the department. "Nassar had explained the procedure as being legitimate, therefore, not a crime," the report said.
The detectives said cost was a factor in not seeking a medical expert to review Nassar's technique, which he presented in a PowerPoint presentation known as "The Grand Junction."
"McCready indicated Meridian Township did not have the money to consult a doctor," the report said. "He states, 'You just can't walk into a doctor's office and ask them questions about something like this.' He said it was not up to the police department to obtain expert witnesses, and it was up to the prosecutor's office to do so if deemed necessary for court."
During the press conference, Walsh said McCready had a "complete miss" in 2004, but "remains a solid member of our department."
"Andrew has been deeply, deeply compassionate towards Brianne," Walsh said.
When Randall-Gay went to the Meridian Township Police Department in 2004, officers sent her to Sparrow Hospital for a rape kit. But a few weeks later, police asked Randall-Gay and her parents to meet with Nassar, and police told her parents that what she experienced was a legitimate treatment.
At the time, investigators later said, they accepted Nassar's explanation that he had touched Randall-Gay “in the perineum” and the procedure was a “medical technique” to relieve pressure from a ligament that runs through the pelvic region.
"The case was briefly investigated and closed on Oct. 1, 2004, without being sent to the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office for review," according to the report.
Walsh apologized last year to Randall-Gay, saying police "failed" her when they didn't forward a report on her allegations to the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.
In her statement, Randall-Gay addressed a lack of oversight in her case.
"With McCready being a new detective, his supervisor should have been reviewing his cases and stepping in if basic investigative work was not taking place," she wrote. "In addition, this case should have been forwarded to the prosecutor’s office. It is evident when looking at other CSCs conducted by McCready, that it was common practice to forward these to the prosecutor. He and Sergeant (Alan) Spencer both failed when they made the decision, solely based on the suspect's word, that this was not a crime."
However, Randall-Gay said she forgave the police officials for their failures.
"As angry as I am, I have sympathy for Sergeant McCready and others involved in this case, as I do not believe they had mal-intent," Randall-Gay wrote. "I know the overwhelming guilt I feel every day for not pursuing this in 2004, and I can’t imagine the guilt that they, too, must feel. They made a mistake, a mistake that they will live with the rest of their lives. I offered my forgiveness in the past, and I continue to extend my forgiveness to them."
The township and Randall-Gay both received copies of the 88-page report from investigator Ken Ouellette, a former East Lansing police lieutenant whom she chose to conduct the independent inquiry.
The township's police department has changed some of its procedures to implement national best practices in sexual assault investigation and to ensure proper oversight of those cases, Plaga said.
"All sexual assault cases come through my office and that’s where the buck stops,” Plaga said at the press conference Tuesday.
After reviewing sexual assault cases dating to 2000, the department has reopened seven cases where there is "potential other work that could have been done," the chief said.
The department is seeking search warrants and comment from other witnesses, but the issues in those cases are "nothing that mirrors what happened with Brianne's case," he said.
Meridian Township hired Randall-Gay to be a consultant for a year to develop a sexual assault prevention program aimed at education for children and adults. She hosted three community classes for residents last summer to hep people recognize and report sexual assault.
She also worked in partnership with Meridian Township officials to train officers statewide during two sessions with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, Walsh said.
A sexual assault advocate hailed the department's moves, saying its apology last year and Tuesday's investigative report are crucial in righting its wrongs.
"The apology of the department was the first right step," said Trinea Gonczar, who was assaulted by Nassar and is now development director for Wayne County SAFE, which provides sexual assault services. including counseling and advocacy.
"There is something very powerful from a simple apology. But the investigation had to happen for Bree to be able to know what really went wrong in her case. I hope today Bree can now shut that door. She’s an amazing woman, and I know she will be stronger now than yesterday with knowing the truth."