Thanedar: Whitmer should bow out over Nassar case handling

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar is calling on opponent and fellow Democrat Gretchen Whitmer to drop out of the race over what he calls her decision to not take up sexual misconduct allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar in 2016.

Shri Thanedar

Thanedar, who is running against Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed and Bill Cobbs in the 2018 Democratic primary, issued a statement Tuesday calling on Whitmer to bow out, saying she should have charged Nassar right away with sexual misconduct rather than leaving it to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to handle the case. Schuette is also running for governor as a Republican.

Whitmer has said Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap never brought her police reports needed to prosecute the sexual assault cases. She and another top county attorney said MSU police took the cases to Schuette because initial allegations originated in multiple counties — Ingham and Eaton — making his state-level office best suited to lead the prosecution, a point Schuette himself noted when he agreed to review them.

"Larry Nassar is serving 60 years on child pornography charges thanks to the swift work of the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office under my direction,” Whitmer said in a Tuesday statement to The Detroit News. “The hard drives recovered at his home were a direct result of the work my office did.”

Whitmer said her office “was ready to move forward on charges of sexual assault, but neither police reports nor a warrant request ever came to the (Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office). Instead, and for jurisdictional reasons, it was sent to the attorney general.”

Gretchen Whitmer

Dunlap told The News that Whitmer wanted to charge Nassar in a child pornography case that she thought would be “relatively easy to convict on” but said the assault allegations could be “much more difficult to take to trial,” a characterization Whitmer called “patently false.”

Thanedar argued in a statement that Whitmer “neglected her duties and failed to act when MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap approached her.”

“According to the police chief, she told them her decision was to not move forward with charging Nassar with criminal sexual assault because it is difficult to convict,” he said. “As the prosecutor, she failed to act and now is trying to take political advantage by grandstanding. She should do a favor to the Democratic Party by withdrawing from the governor’s race because the Democrats cannot afford to lose the governorship in 2018.”

Dunlap took the assault cases to Schuette hours after a fall 2016 meeting with Whitmer and staff.

Separate correspondence provided by the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office shows that Whitmer emailed Dunlap on Oct. 5, the day after their meeting, and said her team remained “eager to read any and all police reports you send our way.”

“I am proud of my record fighting for victims,” Whitmer continued. “It’s shameful to exploit this tragedy and to ignore the facts for political gain. Michigan deserves better.”

The initial sexual misconduct complaints — five or six at the time, according to Dunlap — became part of a larger case prosecuted by Schuette’s office that resulted in plea deals with the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who has now admitted assaulting at least 10 women under the guise of medical treatment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Michigan prosecuted Nassar on child pornography charges that, under federal penalties, resulted in a 60-year prison sentence last week.

Lisa McCormick, who remains chief assistant prosecutor in Ingham County, agreed that jurisdiction was the main factor in the prosecution and said MSU police never provided enough information for the office to press charges in the assault cases.

“We needed to review all the police reports and evidence before we could give a decision,” McCormick said.

Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd said state attorneys were better suited to lead the prosecution of Nassar because the cases crossed county lines.

Lloyd, a Republican, said he has no reason to believe Whitmer or her office did anything to slow the Nassar prosecution. Having the attorney general’s office handle cases in both counties provided victims a single point of contact, he said.

“What we want to see as prosecutors is justice, not only for the defendants, but for the victims as well,” Lloyd told The Detroit News.