Detective challenged on lack of warning to Simon on MSU probe

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Trustee Brian Mosallam makes a motion to replace Interim President John Engler. The vote did not pass.

Charlotte — Michigan State University trustees were updated periodically on civil lawsuits stemming from the Larry Nassar scandal and the insurance policies that could cover the claims at “study sessions” before board meetings, Trustee Brian Mosallam said Friday.

But the former MSU athlete could not remember whether former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was ever discussed as a liability in relation to the university’s insurance coverage during the meetings, which were not open to the public.

“I just don’t remember,” Mosallam said, though he noted Simon was present at the meetings.

Mosallam’s testimony during the sixth day of Simon's preliminary examination could be used to show the legal and financial pressures that were an alleged motive for Simon to lie in a 2018 interview with police about her knowledge of a 2014 complaint against Nassar. Simon and her legal team have rejected the charge that she lied.

“Those lawsuits weren’t settled until after this interview,” Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter said at the Friday hearing, which is expected to resume July 23.

Prosecutors allege Simon was informed in a 2014 meeting with Title IX coordinator Paulette Granberry-Russell that Nassar was the subject of a Title IX complaint, but lied about that knowledge in a 2018 interview with police. She is charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors in relation to the allegations.  

The former MSU president has maintained she was informed that a sports doctor was under review in 2014, but didn’t know it was Nassar until 2016, when the media reported his name.

Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke last month said her review of documents in the case indicated there was “probable cause” that Simon “knew what was going on” in 2014 in relation to a complaint from Amanda Thomashow against Nassar.

Mosallam's Friday testimony about the board's "study sessions" and the information divulged in those meetings was brief. Simon's lawyers noted much of the information discussed during the meetings likely was protected by attorney-client privilege, a point Mosallam did not dispute. 

He said he had no knowledge of who Nassar was or even that he was employed by MSU prior to the 2016 Indy Star article reporting some of the first public allegations against the sports medicine doctor. 

Michigan State Police Detective Lt. Joseph Cavanaugh testified that he had no doubt Simon lied to him during a May 2018 interview, noting that the more information withheld from police "the less the hit to the university would be.”

When police later obtained agenda items from the meeting where the 2014 complaint was discussed — items that included handwritten notes about a "COM incident" and “sports med Dr. Nassar SA" — "there was evidence to indicate that (Simon) was given information way more detailed than just a 'sports med doc,’” Cavanaugh said.

"...There was an exchange with detailed information about Larry Nassar," he said. 

Cavanaugh denied arguments by Simon's attorneys that he had not informed the former president at her May 2018 interview that he was conducting a criminal examination, but he said his recorder may not have been on at the time. 

"In this case at MSU, early on in the investigation, we were reminded by our superiors to make sure we do do that," he said. The Attorney General office's investigation focused on MSU administration, employees and potential charges of misconduct in office, aiding and abetting, and obstruction of justice related to their handling of complaints against Nassar, Cavanaugh said. 

Simon's lawyers pushed back on Cavanaugh's assertions. 

Not only did Cavanaugh fail to record his warning to Simon about the ongoing criminal investigation, he also failed to mention such a warning was given in the subsequent report on the interview, Simon's lawyer Lee Silver said.

Michigan law requires the person charged with lying to a police officer must first be notified of the criminal investigation and then "...knowingly and willfully conceal from the peace officer any material fact relating to the criminal investigation."

"I want to know why you wouldn’t have included in your written report that you gave the warning to Dr. Simon,” Silver said.

"For the most part if it didn’t happen in the recording, it didn’t go into the report,” Cavanaugh responded.

Simon had admitted as early as Nassar's sentencing in January 2018 to knowing about a "sports medicine doctor" under review in 2014, Silver said. But detectives never followed up in the May 2018 interview to ask for details about when she was informed about the complaint, how she was informed and which staff member informed her, he said. 

"Why is it her fault that they don’t do their job and ask any follow up questions?'" Silver said.

Cavanaugh said he took Simon's statement — that in 2014 she knew nothing of "the substance of the review, the nature of the complaint" — as a "minimizing statement" with no obvious follow-up. 

"When we sit down and talk about the Larry Nassar case, truthfully I’m appalled that I have to ask direct questions of how is it that you became aware of the Larry Nassar case,” Cavanaugh said. "They’re administrators in this university."

At the conclusion of the 2014 investigation into Thomashow's complaint, MSU stood by Nassar. Two years later, dozens of young women began to come forward saying they had been assaulted similarly under the guise of medical treatment.

Simon resigned from MSU in January 2018 as more than 200 women and girls testified about Nassar's abuse in two courtrooms over nine days in Eaton and Ingham counties.

She was succeeded by two interim presidents, John Engler and Satish Udpa. Last month, the MSU Board of Trustees named Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley to become MSU's permanent leader starting Aug. 1.

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