Attorneys, Nassar survivors urge Nessel to investigate UM

Ypsilanti — Attorneys for more than 50 men who allege they were sexually assaulted by a former University of Michigan doctor over three decades are calling on the state Attorney General to launch an independent investigation.

The demand and a secondary plea for UM regents to join that call came during a Thursday news conference at an Ypsilanti Marriott convened by a handful of accusers of the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson and survivors of abuse inflicted by disgraced Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar. 

"I want to implore Dana Nessel to initiate an independent investigation," John Manly, who represented many of Nassar's victims, told reporters, adding that the UM Board of Regents should want the same. "Every survivor here wants it."

Nessel said Thursday she will not investigate UM's handling of the sexual abuse allegations unless and until the university waives attorney-client privilege. “There cannot be a thorough and complete investigation unless and until the university commits to complete transparency and full cooperation,” she said.

Kaylee Lorincz addresses Larry Nassar in the court of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina on Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

Kaylee Lorincz, a former Adrian College gymnast abused by Nassar, noted Thursday what she's deemed as MSU's failures in handling abuse reports against Nassar. Victims, she said, are still waiting for the university to turn over more than 6,000 pages of documents to the attorney general. 

"Today we are here to demand better," said Lorincz, who went public with her story of abuse nearly three years ago. "We are here urging the University of Michigan to do better, be better."

The request comes a day after UM faced its first lawsuit involving sexual abuse claims involving Anderson was filed in U.S. District Court by a former wrestler who alleges the doctor abused him on at least 35 occasions in the 1980s.

The lawsuit also names the UM Board of Regents as defendants and alleges the university was aware of Anderson's misconduct and is responsible for it because "UM placed vulnerable student athletes ... in Anderson’s care despite knowing he was a sexual predator." 

Eight other accusers filed similar suits in federal court Thursday against the university. 

Mike Cox, the Livonia-based attorney who represents the alleged Anderson victim, said nearly a dozen lawsuits are expected to be filed by former UM athletes.

"We share the same goal of gathering all the facts, including understanding the full scope of the harm caused by Dr. Robert E. Anderson and the institutional failings of the university," UM spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said in a statement Thursday. 

Anderson had a 35-year career as a UM physician, which included stints as director of the university health service and athletic team doctor. He retired from UM in 2003 and died in 2008.

JP DesCamp was not a UM graduate or athlete but said he visited Anderson in his downtown Ann Arbor office in 1973 for a standard medical examination mandated by his employer. But the experience, he said Thursday, was anything but standard. 

DesCamp, then 22, said he was required to go by General Motors’ air transport division for continuation of his flight duties out of  Willow Run Airport. The “expressionless nurse made no eye contact while she summoned me into the examination room,” he recalled. 

“Things got weird while Dr. Anderson made me lay on his examination table, face up, while he removed my undershorts,” said DesCamp, who formerly served in the Air National Guard. “He donned his examination gloves and began an intense rectal examination with one hand while he used his other hand to stimulate my penis.”

Anderson told him he was “too nervous” and that he should "get used to this type of examination,” especially if DesCamp intended to apply for a pilot position. 

“He reiterated the importance of these continued visits, especially at the end of the seemingly eternal and humiliating physical exam," DesCamp said. “Needless to say, I never returned to his office because I was too shocked and embarrassed to discuss this with anyone.”

Abuse survivor Michael Connelley (from left) consoles fellow survivor Robert Stone (center) and JP DesCamp who have accused former University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson of systematic sexual assault as they speak to the media in Ypsilanti on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Another accuser, Michael Connelley, a graduate of UM, said he was sexually abused by Anderson for years, beginning when he was 18.

 Connelley said he first went to see Anderson, who was referred to him by a friend, for a sore throat. 

“That’s when the abuse started. I’m not going to go into it,” he told reporters, adding he expects the number of victims to be staggering once the investigation is over. “My life has greatly been affected by the abuse that I suffered. In my relationships and my personal life, I was forced to overcome obstacles I should have never encountered."

Connelley said he doesn’t accept UM’s apology, offered last month by President Mark Schlissel.

"It’s coming way too little, way too late," he said. “The damage is done."

The team of lawyers aiding Anderson's alleged victims helped secure one of the largest sexual abuse settlements in history for survivors of Nassar. 

Nassar spent two decades serving as a doctor for MSU, the U.S. National Women’s Gymnastics Team and U.S. Olympic team. 

He pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges and 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in Michigan state courts. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges and up to 175 years by state courts on sex abuse charges.

In May 2018, the university reached a $500 million settlement with more than 300 women and girls who say they were sexually assaulted by the disgraced MSU sports doctor. 

The agreement was one of the largest sexual assault settlements in history, requiring the university to pay $425 million to claimants and $75 million toward a trust fund for any claimants in the future. 

Trinea Gonczar, a former Twistars gymnast, told Anderson's accusers that she and other Nassar victims "will walk this journey with you."

"The toughest battles go to the toughest soldiers. Change does not come easy. We can tell you that coming forward will not be easy," she said. "As survivors ourselves, we know what it's like to be called liars, then be shamed and silenced. It takes an army, and we will walk this journey with you."

At MSU, three officials have been charged as a result of an investigation led by special prosecutor William Forsyth in what the university knew about Nassar, including former School of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel, former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages and former MSU president Lou Anna Simon. 

Strampel is serving a year in jail and Klages is to be sentenced next month for lying to police. Simon is yet to be tried.

Before he left the investigative team in December 2018, Forsyth said MSU had repeatedly stonewalled investigators and was more concerned about financial and legal considerations than victims and the public interest. 

He said MSU needed a "top-down culture change" before people started to trust any policies the university put in place in the wake of the Nassar scandal. 

The first Anderson accuser to speak publicly was Robert Julian Stone, a California man who told The Detroit News that Anderson had abused him during an exam in June 1971. Last August, Stone sent UM sent school officials an essay he wrote, "My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971."

Abuse survivor Robert Stone (left) shows his emotion with JP DesCamp, both of whom accused former University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson of systematic sexual assault as they speak to the media in Ypsilanti on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

An emotional Stone on Thursday stressed that his story of abuse has not appeared in print exactly as it happened. It would be too hard for readers to hear all of the graphic details of his true account, he said. 

"What happened in Ann Arbor was a horror story and it went on for over 25 years," he said. "I went to the press because somebody had to." 

After inquiries from The News about Anderson's allegations, UM officials acknowledged Feb. 19 the school had received a report of abuse in July 2018 and opened a police investigation in October 2018.

"They kept it quiet. They kept it secret," Manly added Thursday. "This guy targeted vulnerable populations. He is a consummate predator and the university knew. If you have any doubt about their culpability, why did you shut up about it and conceal it for 19 months?"

UM later announced that it had set up a hotline and asked other possible victims to come forward. The university also offered free counseling to anyone harmed by Anderson.

On Thursday, the university reiterated that free confidential counseling services are being extended to those affected by sexual misconduct involving Anderson and alleged misconduct by Provost Martin Philbert, who is on leave amid a probe into several allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Individuals seeking to report alleged misconduct by Anderson are encouraged to call a new dedicated call center at (855) 336-5900. Those seeking to report alleged misconduct by Philbert should continue to call the U-M Compliance Hotline at (866) 990-0111. 

The university has said it has engaged with a law firm to conduct an independent and thorough review of the facts.

"We have committed to publicly share the independent firm's report," Broekhuizen said Thursday. "For there to be a transparent reckoning of the full history, we again encourage all witnesses and former patients to come forward and share their stories." 

Manly accused the university last month of a "systematic cover-up," urging Anderson survivors not to trust UM and to reach out instead to the state Attorney General's office. Manly at that time made clear that he intended to ask Nessel to conduct an inquiry. 

The attorneys and alleged victims gave testimony to the press Thursday with a backdrop of posterboard photos of each UM regent. 

“We have a message for them today,” Manly said. “The message is; you have a window to help your family and to make this right.”

In January 2019, UM rescinded its hiring of a former USA Gymnastics official who left the organization during the fallout from the Nassar scandal.

The university fired Rhonda Faehn, who had been brought on as a consultant, a day after it had announced her hiring amid a report about the controversial decision to bring Faehn on that was published by the Michigan Daily, the school's student newspaper. 

UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel apologized for the hiring decision on the university's athletic website, saying it was "the wrong decision."

Beth LeBlanc contributed.

cferretti@detroitnews.com