MSU suspends coach as abuse allegations grow

Francis X. Donnelly, and Kim Kozlowski

The women’s gymnastics coach at Michigan State University was suspended Monday, two weeks after a lawsuit accused her of downplaying sexual abuse complaints against a former MSU sports doctor.

Kathie Klages

The Jan. 30 lawsuit naming coach Kathie Klages was filed by one of the 30 women who have sued Dr. Larry Nassar in the burgeoning scandal.

Klages, 62, who coached the gymnastics team for 27 seasons, was suspended Monday morning, according to an email sent by Richard J. Bader, MSU’s associate athletic director, and obtained by The Detroit News.

“Many of you have communicated with my office over the last several weeks about the program,” Bader wrote. “I write this afternoon to update you that Coach Klages was suspended from her coaching duties this morning.”

Bader said assistant coach Mike Rowe would serve as the interim head coach for the rest of the season. Klages, a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, earns a base pay of $75,768.

Also Monday, MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis canceled a planned national tour of 12-14 college basketball games as part of his prestigious role as chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee. He did not give a reason for the cancellation.

Klages’ suspension comes as MSU has been investigating the alleged sexual abuse of gymnasts by Nassar, whom the university fired last year. Seven lawsuits have been filed against Nassar in federal and state courts in Ingham County, Grand Rapids and California by 30 women who say they were assaulted under the guise of treatment.

In the lawsuits, several victims said they had complained to others about Nassar but nothing was done. Among those were three young women who said they had complained to MSU officials, including a coach, trainers and sports staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to the lawsuits.

One complainant was a teenager who was part of a Michigan youth program instructed by Klages in the late 1990s, according to a lawsuit filed last month. The teen was treated by Nassar for lower back pain and said the doctor fondled her several times from 1997 to 1999.

The teen complained to Klages, who had told her to see Nassar, and the MSU coach told the teen she had known Nassar for years and couldn’t imagine him doing anything untoward, according to the Jan. 30 lawsuit.

Klages also told the teen that a formal complaint could lead to serious consequences for the girl and for Nassar, the teen said in the lawsuit.


Nassar’s attorney, Matthew Newburg, declined to comment for this story. Klages could not be reached for comment.

“This is the first real step that MSU has made to overcome its denial of the sexual assaults that occurred in this case,” said Mick S. Grewal, an Okemos attorney representing one of many victims who have filed lawsuits. “However, MSU still has many more steps to make for the sake of all the survivors and all the people who have been affected in this case.”

Nassar, 53, is facing federal and state charges. He is charged with possession of child porn, assaulting a girl at his home and destroying evidence. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held without bond at the Ingham County Jail.

None of those charges have to do with his work at MSU, but police are investigating complaints they’ve received from 60 women.

In the assault case, a preliminary exam is scheduled for Friday in Ingham County District Court. He is charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person younger than 13, which is punishable by up to life in prison.

MSU reassigned Nassar from clinical and patient duties as of Aug. 30, a day after a complaint from one of the gymnasts was made to authorities. He was fired Sept. 20.

Nassar had been under intense scrutiny since September when two gymnasts, including a member of the 2000 U.S. women’s Olympic team, said they were sexually abused by him when they were teens. He has denied it.

In November, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office charged Nassar with sexually assaulting a girl at his home in Ingham County between 1998 and 2005.

In December, Nassar was arrested in Holt on federal child pornography charges. An FBI agent said at least 37,000 images and videos were discovered.

In a Feb. 3 email to the MSU community, MSU President Lou Anna Simon said school police are conducting a robust criminal investigation and administrators are doing an internal review assisted by an outside attorney to strengthen school policies and protocol.

“I want to ... assure you we are looking into every aspect of this situation with integrity and diligence,” Simon wrote in the email.

MSU police’s special victim unit is leading the criminal investigation into Nassar, which began the end of August, when a complaint was made. Since then, more than a dozen investigators have been working on 60 complaints, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said Monday.

The police have worked with the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, Cody said, a Title IX review has been launched at the university with advisement from an external law firm based in Chicago. That process involves the examination of relevant documents and interviews with individuals surrounding the work of Nassar at MSU.

“It is prudent when you have allegations like this,” Cody said. “We have the utmost confidence in our review to find all the facts.”

But John Manly, a California-based attorney representing 40 women and girls with complaints against Nassar, said MSU should call in an independent investigator like Penn State did in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case.

“Institutions investigating themselves very rarely find they did anything wrong,” Manly said. “When you have (scores) of children who are sexually assaulted, you need to take it seriously and not hire a crisis PR firm.”

‘This was not ... treatment’

In the civil lawsuits from alleged victims, Nassar is accused of abusing young women over a 22-year period, from 1994 to 2016. All the victims were female, mostly minors, the youngest 9, according to the lawsuits. The oldest was 29.

The incidents happened on MSU’s East Lansing campus, at a gymnastics facility in Dimondale near Lansing and at USA Gymnastics events, according to the lawsuits. He was a longtime team doctor for USA Gymnastics, which is the sport’s national governing body.

USA Gymnastics said it fired Nassar and notified law enforcement in summer 2015 shortly after receiving a complaint about him.

“We are grateful to the athletes for coming forward to share their concerns when they did,” the organization said in a statement.

But the accusations weren’t limited to gymnasts, according to the lawsuits. Other alleged victims played softball, basketball, soccer, swimming, figure skating, field hockey and track and field.

The young women said Nassar, during medical appointments, used a training technique that involved vaginal or anal penetration or both, according to the lawsuits. He did so without using a glove and without getting their consent.

Several women said he was sexually aroused during the procedures, according to the lawsuits. Others said he also massaged their breasts.

“We don’t tell people about this because they wouldn’t understand,” he told one teenager, according to the teen’s lawsuit filed last week in Grand Rapids.

One alleged victim, named Jane Doe in her lawsuit, was an Olympic medalist.

“Make no mistake, this was not medical treatment. This was sexual battery,” said Manly.

‘It was very rehearsed’

Among Nassar’s alleged victims is Rachael Denhollander, who filed a police report in August and a civil lawsuit against Nassar and the university earlier this year. She met the doctor in 2000 when she was a 15-year-old gymnast after a family in the Kalamazoo gymnastics community referred her.

Denhollander said Nassar was a prominent physician who was revered for his work with athletes.

“I have rarely met a personality as magnetic as him,” Denhollander told The News. “He was very skilled at drawing you in and making you think you he was taking care of you.”

Yet she said Nassar assaulted her during Denhollander’s first visit to an MSU clinic in January 2000, with her mother in the room.

She said he told her he was going to align her hips, then came behind her and penetrated her vagina with his fingers while reaching underneath her shorts. He also gave her a sports massage during that visit, and penetrated her again with his fingers, she said. Her mother never saw what happened, and Denhollander never told her even though she felt shocked and uncomfortable.

“What he did was very brazen. It was very rehearsed, very practiced. It was clear he did this on a regular basis,” Denhollander said. “My thought process was he wasn’t doing anything medically unnecessary, he would not be allowed to treat top athletes and children if there was any question of the medical procedures he was doing.”

An attorney for Nassar previously told the Indianapolis Star his client denied penetrating his patients.

Denhollander saw Nassar for five subsequent visits through April, and it wasn’t until his last visit — when she said he unhooked her bra, massaged her breasts and visibly became aroused — that she realized that something was not right.

But 16 years passed before she came forward and filed the police report in August.

Now 32 and living in Louisville, Denhollander only fully realized she had been victimized when media reports emerged about Nassar in September in which he denied he did intravaginal work.

“It made the depths of his depravity more clear,” Denhollander said. “That was when I had my ultimate answer: None of it was legitimate. … I am grieved for the pain he had caused so many. I’m grieved for him and the pain he has put his family through. I grieve for all of us.”

Denhollander added she is upset there are so many testimonies like hers but glad the university suspended Klages.

“There was a deliberate indifference at MSU as to what he was doing and that is why he was able to continue,” Denhollander said. “A pedophile is only as prolific as the people around him allow him to be.”

‘There will be arrests’

The turmoil surrounding the Nassar case is just one Michigan State is dealing with at the moment. Late last week, the university announced three players with the football team were under investigation by MSU police over sexual assault allegations. That has also triggered a Title IX investigation, as well as an independent investigation into the football staff’s handling of the issue as one staff member has been suspended.

It all comes as athletics director Hollis is in his final weeks as the chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee. In order to fulfill his duties leading that committee — its chief goal is to decide the field for the NCAA Tournament — Hollis was intending to embark on a road trip late this month that would take him to 12-14 games around the country ending on Feb. 26 for Senior Day at Michigan State.

On Monday, that trip was scrapped as The News was told Hollis would not take part in the tour as planned. During an interview on Sirius/XM’s College Sports Nation on Monday to talk about his work with the committee, Hollis was asked about the football investigation.

“Really can’t make any comments beyond the statement I’ve already made,” he said. “When there’s an ongoing investigation, we’ll let that do its process. I’ll let my statement stand as was and we’ll continue to watch this.”

The case surrounding the football team has developed swiftly, with the alleged incident happening in late January. As of Monday, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office had yet to receive the final report from MSU police. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Lisa McCormick told The News on Friday it was expected sometime this week.

Karen Truszkowski, who is representing the accuser, said she has been communicating closely with MSU police, as well as the Title IX investigator, since she began working with the victim and her family nearly two weeks ago.

“I can tell you that once the investigation is finished that arrests will likely be imminent,” Truszkowski said. “There will be arrests made, and they are working with the prosecutor’s office.”

During his weekly news conference on Monday, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo was asked about Hollis’ change of plans.

“I just know this, that I have absolute, positive, complete faith in my president, AD and coaches that are going through things,” Izzo said. “And that’s all I can do. I have faith in them, and I support them because I have faith in them. I wouldn’t support them if I didn’t have faith in them.”

Matt Charboneau contributed