Strampel guilty of misconduct in office, not guilty of criminal sexual conduct

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
William Strampel, former dean at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University, leaves Ingham County Circuit Court after a jury found him guilty of misconduct in office and two charges of willful neglect of duty, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at Veterans Memorial Courthouse in Lansing, Mich.  Strampel, 71, had been accused of abusing his power to sexually proposition and harass female students and not enforcing patient restrictions imposed on Larry Nassar following a 2014 complaint. Jurors found him not guilty of felony criminal sexual conduct in the second degree, a charge that could have sent him to prison for up to 15 years for grabbing the buttocks of at least one student.

Lansing — The former dean of Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine was convicted Wednesday of misconduct in office and two counts of willful neglect of duty but acquitted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. 

A 12-member jury in Ingham County Circuit Court delivered the split verdict against William Strampel after roughly five and a half hours of deliberation that began Tuesday.  

Misconduct in office is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The neglect of duty charges are misdemeanors that are each punishable by up to a year in jail. The second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

He will return to court July 31 for sentencing.

The charges against Strampel, the former boss of convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar, stemmed from sexually explicit comments Strampel allegedly made to several female students, his alleged grabbing of a student's buttocks and his handling of complaints against Nassar.

Strampel was dean of MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine from 1999 to 2018 and retired in July after being charged by then-Attorney General Bill Schuette. He is the first MSU official to be convicted of charges stemming from the Nassar scandal. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday thanked the women whose testimony  "helped ensure that William Strampel could no longer wield his power to prey on women." The conviction emphasizes the need for cultural change in schools and medical communities that treat female students and doctors differently from male colleagues, she said. 

"Public officers who brandish their power to demean, insult, harass, objectify and abuse female students will be held accountable," Nessel said in a statement. 

Strampel's lawyer John Dakmak said his client had mixed emotions on Wednesday's verdict, but was happy with the jury's decision not to convict him of second-degree criminal sexual conduct or a lesser charge of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. 

"The jury saw through a lot of allegations that fell flat," Dakmak said. He had argued Tuesday that Strampel never directly solicited a student and that his sexual innuendos were just "locker room talk." 

MSU is committed to improving the campus climate for faculty, staff and students and the Wednesday verdict reinforced the need for that change, university spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said in a statement. 

"We will continue addressing the culture that allowed such abhorrent behavior as we work on meaningful actions to be more aware and more accountable," Guerrant said. "We have improved our dean review process, improved patient-care policies and our College of Osteopathic Medicine is developing a forward-looking strategic plan to improve and assess the educational climate."  

When Strampel retired from MSU last year, he signed an agreement that deprived him of emeritus status and other benefits typically awarded to high-level MSU officials when they retire.

The agreement, which sidestepped a drawn-out tenure revocation procedure,  guaranteed health care coverage for Strampel and his wife, access to his 401(k) retirement savings plan and a settlement of $175,000 to make up for the salary he would have received during the tenure revocation proceedings. His salary at MSU was $217,903 a year. 

The verdict is a victory for Nessel's office, one that could result in prison time for the former MSU official, said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. 

"Will he receive jail time? That’s hard to determine at this point," Henning said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, but there’s no guarantee.”

The criminal sexual conduct claim, the most serious of Strampel's charges, was a difficult one to prove because it relied on the testimony of two alleged victims with little corroborating evidence, Henning said. The acquittal is not a finding of Strampel's innocence, he said, but "the jury clearly found there was not enough there to convict him.”

Arguments in Strampel's trial began May 30 and concluded Tuesday after roughly three hours of closing statements in which prosecution and defense largely differed on whether Strampel's conduct, while offensive, actually rose to the level of a crime. 

The former dean had “absolute power and control” over female students and took advantage of that role by making sexually explicit comments during professional meetings in his role as dean, Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark told jurors Tuesday.

His alleged comments to students and young women included statements about young women who "put out" for older men, the difficulty of sending nude photographs, comments about a doctor's breasts, a student who "stripped her way through school" and the need to "dress sexier" to make it in medicine.

But Dakmak in his closing arguments said the longtime MSU dean's gruff, direct speech was a personality quirk developed over years of university leadership and time in the U.S. Army. 

The verdict against Strampel comes as the attorney general's office pursues an ongoing investigation into the university's handling of complaints against Nassar and as former MSU President Lou Anna Simon faces charges in Eaton County of lying to police officers during the probe.

Former longtime head MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages is expected to return to court this summer on charges that she lied to a peace officer about her knowledge of Nassar's crimes.

Strampel's neglect of duty charges were based on allegations that Strampel allowed  Nassar to see patients while the school investigated a 2014 sexual misconduct claim and did not ensure Nassar followed proper patient protocols in the wake of a 2014 investigation.

Nassar was convicted in two courts of sexually abusing patients under the guise of medical treatment and in a third court for possessing child pornography. He is serving a de facto life sentence.

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