Cop prodded prosecutors for 9 months to review sex allegations against UM doctor

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — A University of Michigan detective pressured Washtenaw County prosecutors for nine months to review a police report detailing alleged sexual abuse by a former school sports doctor, according to emails obtained by The Detroit News.

At least three times between April and January, Detective Mark West either sent new information or asked by email if prosecutors had yet reviewed the case.

But prosecutors were quick to tell police to avoid submitting information on the case involving Dr. Robert E. Anderson through its typical online case management system, which is routinely used for police investigations that request warrants. 

Robert E. Anderson

The emails, obtained by The News from the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office through the Freedom of Information Act, show West sent his investigative report on Anderson to prosecutors on April 29. The report detailed multiple cases of alleged sexual abuse by Anderson, who died in 2008.

Notably, four days before the report was emailed to the prosecutor's office, Assistant Prosecutor Konrad Siller wrote to UM police Lt. Paul DeRidder: "Don't send (the report) through ONBASE. At this point, I see no reason to submit it through ONBASE."

DeRidder replied seven minutes later: "Copy that."

OnBase is an electronic document and workflow management tool used by Washtenaw County.

When Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller was asked why prosecutors didn't want the report sent through the OnBase system, he said it was because of the unlikelihood of any prosecution involving alleged cases of abuse by a deceased man.

"There was no reason to expect at that time that a criminal prosecution would result, which was discussed between this office and (university police) at that time," Hiller said. "Had the review or additional investigation identified a chargeable case, then the (police) would have submitted a request for prosecution through OnBase."

As for one of Anderson's alleged victims accusing prosecutors of "dragging their feet" on the investigation, Hiller insisted that isn't true.

Hiller said in an email Monday that his office wasn't asked to prosecute the case but instead to review the matter "to see if any avenues of possible prosecution existed and if any additional investigation should be undertaken." 

Hiller added his office "was aware that the suspect was deceased and that the incidents investigated occurred decades before — well beyond Michigan’s six-year general statute of limitation for criminal prosecution."

The university became aware of the allegations in July 2018, when a former student-athlete wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel to detail abuse during medical exams by Anderson in the early 1970s. Manuel forwarded the complaint to the university office that reviews sexual complaints, where it sat unaddressed for more than two months.

UM police started their investigation on Oct. 3, 2018, and wrapped it up on April 23, 2019, department spokeswoman Heather Young said in an email. 

After West submitted the report to prosecutors as a PDF attachment to an email, the detective asked assistant Siller over the next several months whether he'd reviewed it.

On June 11, West emailed Siller, asking, “Have you had the chance to review the Dr. Anderson Report. I have risk management contacting me wanting to know what the status is on it for their insurance purposes.”

About an hour later, Siller replied: “I am not all the way through it. Too many murders going on.”

Police received new information in August that prompted West to reopen the case, and sent updated information to prosecutors on Sept. 10. If Siller replied, it was not contained in the documents released to The News.

Four months later, on Jan. 21, 2020, West emailed Siller again: “I have been getting more requests from the survivors of this, as well as the University’s General Counsel’s Office about this Dr. Anderson report. Have you reviewed it yet?”

If Siller replied via email, it is not contained in the documents supplied by prosecutors.

"There is documentation supporting that our detectives followed up with the Prosecutor’s Office on the status of their review," Young wrote. "(The university police department) was notified that the Prosecutor’s Office finished their review on Feb. 18, 2020."

It was the same day The News first asked UM and Washtenaw County prosecutors about the status of the case, for a story that would be published on Feb. 19.

When asked why UM police had to ask prosecutors several times if they had finished reviewing the Anderson report, Hiller said police were updated verbally during UM football games and other times.

"Siller recalls discussing the progress of the review with Lt. DeRidder and/or ... West at U of M football games and meetings during the fall of 2019," Hiller wrote. "Siller recalls later in the fall confirming by telephone to ... West that there could be no prosecution.

"Based on ... West’s email of January 21, 2020, it appears that Mr. Siller’s decision may not have been communicated effectively," Hiller said.

Hiller was asked why the case wasn't resolved until the day The News asked prosecutors about Stone's allegations. He said, "I cannot agree with your premise."

"Siller recalls that he confirmed the earlier assessment that no criminal prosecution could occur to (police) by telephone in the fall of 2019," Hiller said. "There was never any expectation that criminal charges would result from the investigation."

Hiller's statements Monday conflict with an email he sent early on Feb. 19, when he told The News that the report had been received and reviewed in May or June.

Sexual abuse allegations against Anderson — who was referred to by some students as "Dr. Drop Your Drawers," according to the police report obtained by The News — go back as far as 1968, according to his alleged victims.

One alleged victim, Robert Julian Stone, who claims Anderson abused him nearly 50 years ago, said he believes the university tried to keep the allegations quiet.

"They had this case open in July 2018 with multiple plaintiffs coming forward to report molestation at the hands of this doctor, but they didn't tell anyone about it until I forced their hand in January," Stone said Monday.

In August, Stone, who lives in Palm Springs, California, sent an essay to UM officials titled, "My Michigan Me-Too Moment, 1971," in which he discussed the alleged abuse.

According to documents obtained by The News, university officials in 1979 decided to move Anderson from his position as director of the University Health Service to clinical instructor and reduce his salary. It's unclear why Anderson was transferred.

For 24 years after the transfer, Anderson served as the athletic department's top physician, working with football teams led by Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr, until his 2003 retirement.

Thomas Easthope, the administrator who ousted Anderson as director of the University Health Service in 1979, was stunned to learn during an interview with West two years ago that Anderson was allowed to continue working at the school afterward, police records say.

"Easthope thought Dr. Anderson was gone, gone for good," according to West's report of the interview. He wrote that Easthope was "visibly upset" when informed by police that Anderson continued at the university for nearly another quarter-century.

Easthope then estimated that police may have over 100 victims.

The university announced on Feb. 19 that it was asking other possible victims to come forward as part of an independent review by lawyers at the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, which UM said it hired in January.

When asked why UM waited to publicize the investigation until then, university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald responded that "the university took this action based on receipt of an initial review by the external law firm and the prosecutor's decision Tuesday."

Later in the day, Fitzgerald said: "We made a decision to wait on any additional outreach until the prosecutor made a decision on criminal charges. We would never want to do anything that would interfere with a police investigation."

Stone, meanwhile, said he's disgusted with how UM has handled the case.

"They were dragging their feet on this, but it's worse than that," Stone said. "People reported assaults many decades ago, and the university made a bizarre attempt to discipline or fire Anderson, but he ended up getting rehired.

"It's unclear exactly what happened, but they knew they had a problem, that his behavior was criminal, but rather than call the police or fire him, they just let him keep working," Stone said.