Prosecutor: 2014 Nassar complaint opened MSU to liability, prompted Simon to 'lie'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon appears in District Judge Julie Reincke's courtroom, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Charlotte, Mich., for the second day of her preliminary hearing. Simon faces four charges, including two felonies, because investigators say she lied to police about when she knew about a sexual assault report against former MSU doctor Larry Nassar.

Michigan State University’s “screw-ups” in investigating a student’s 2014 complaint against former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar opened the university to civil and criminal liability, a vulnerability that ultimately influenced former President Lou Anna Simon’s actions in 2016 and beyond, prosecutors argued Monday.  

During more than two hours of objection-laden testimony from MSU lawyer Kristine Moore, Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter argued the former Title IX investigator’s perspective was relevant because it explained the liability the university risked if Simon admitted to police she knew of Nassar’s involvement in the 2014 complaint.

“Everything that occurs in this case where MSU screwed up is relevant to potential civil and criminal liability by Lou Anna Simon prior to her interview with us in May,” Teter said during the second day of Simon's preliminary examination.

Simon’s lawyer Lee Silver frequently objected to Moore’s testimony and questioned its relevance to the perjury charges against Simon. After the hearing, Silver said there was “zero merit” to Teter’s allegations of Simon's involvement in a cover-up.

“I just don’t think it's anything other than rhetoric,” Silver told reporters.

Simon is charged with two misdemeanor counts and two felony counts of lying to a peace officer. The felony charges carry up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The hearing is to determine whether Simon will proceed to trial and will continue Tuesday.

Silver and MSU's Title IX coordinator Paulette Granberry Russell, who is expected to continue her testimony Tuesday, brought MSU-paid attorneys to court with them Monday.

Simon sat quietly with her three attorneys throughout the hearing, at times shaking her head at Teter's questions and comments.

Prosecutors have alleged that Simon knew a 2014 sexual assault complaint had been filed against Nassar but lied to police about her knowledge in May 2018 during an investigation into the university’s handling of the complaint.

When Simon’s hearing began in early February, Teter said Simon’s knowledge of the complaints could be proven through documents that allegedly show Simon discussed the sexual assault investigation during a May meeting with Granberry Russell, who then was in charge of the Title IX office.

Moore testified that she initially received student Amanda Thomashow’s complaint in 2014 as a report of discomfort during a medical procedure. But after speaking with Thomashow, Moore said she realized the MSU student was reporting a sexual assault.

Thomashow had visited Nassar for hip pain resulting from a cheerleading injury a few weeks prior. During that appointment, Nassar sent a female nurse out of the exam room and massaged her breast and labia before Thomashow told him to stop, Thomashow testified in February.

Moore said she reported the incident to the university’s general counsel, MSU police and Russell after her call with Thomashow. She conducted her investigation and interviewed witnesses based on recommendations from former MSU Dean William Strampel, who himself is facing criminal sexual misconduct charges.

Moore fielded several questions Monday about the federal Office of Civil Rights investigation that was happening at MSU at the time of Thomashow’s complaint as well as the decision to allow Nassar to resume treating patients during her investigation.

Moore said her understanding was that Nassar would not be seeing patients while Thomashow's complaint was being investigated, but later she received an email from Nassar informing her he’d be returning to work.

“I wasn’t involved in the decision,” she said.  

Moore’s investigation eventually yielded a “no finding” determination, but she made some recommendations to implement policies requiring stricter notification for patients and the presence of a second person in the exam room.

Moore defended her investigation Monday, noting that her job was to look at policy violations, not violations of criminal statute.

"I did the best I could to follow process at the time. Without the benefit of hindsight, I believe I did everything correctly," Moore said.

Teter said the report "left the door open" for Nassar to sexually assault dozens more and "it's a great place to establish the flag" of where MSU opened itself to civil and criminal liability that could serve as motive for Simon's alleged lies to police later on.

“It goes directly to (Simon’s) motive to lie to us in May of 2018,” Teter said.

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