Education, Human Resources, and Law

Special counsel: MSU stonewalled probe of its Nassar dealings

December 21, 2018
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LANSING — An independent special counsel has accused Michigan State University of stonewalling his investigation into the school's handling of the sexual abuse scandal involving its disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar and called for "top-down cultural change" at the school.

Special counsel Bill Forsyth released a report today that accuses the school of fighting the release of certain relevant documents and releasing others that were heavily redacted or irrelevant. It says these actions hampered the investigation.

"Their biggest concern was the reputation of the university," Forsyth said at a news conference in Lansing that was livestreamed.

"Just come out with what happened here," he said. "I believe they could disclose some of this without violating attorney-client privilege."

School officials didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment about the report.

Hundreds of women and girls, most of them gymnasts, accused Nassar of molesting them under the guise that it was treatment during his time working for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, which trained Olympians. He received long prison terms after pleading guilty to child pornography possession and sexual abuse charges.

Forsyth and his team of prosecutors and investigators have brought criminal charges against five people, including former Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon. She was charged last month with lying to police during an investigation. One of her attorneys has said the charges are baseless.

According to the report, a major piece of the investigation involved interviewing survivors. Of the 280 interviewed, 13 said they reported the abuse to an identified employee at or around the time it happened, it says.

Michigan State softball, volleyball, and track and field athletes have said they told an assistant coach and trainers about Nassar's inappropriate behavior. The school in May reached a $500-million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar.

Forsyth was appointed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the school's handling of Nassar. The investigation is ongoing, though Forsyth said he is stepping down at the end of this month when his contract ends.

Schuette unsuccessfully ran for governor last month and is leaving his office to make way for incoming Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel on Jan. 1. Nessel said in an emailed statement to the Lansing State Journal that she will carry on the investigation into what she called Michigan State's "callous disregard" for victims.

Investigators have said Nassar's crimes were mostly committed in Michigan at a campus clinic, area gyms and his Lansing-area home. Accusers also said he molested them at a gymnastics training ranch in Texas, where Nassar also faces charges, and at national and international competitions.

The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley this month after an independent investigation concluded that neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Nassar allegations when they were first reported to them. The investigation report details an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.

Forsyth said his investigation has been limited to investigating the university: "Who knew what, when they knew it and what, if anything, they did about it."

His report says the university has taken steps to improve its sexual misconduct procedures, but the repeated failures were made by people, not policies.

"Until there is a top-down cultural change at MSU, survivors and the public would be rightly skeptical of the effectiveness of any set of written policies," it concludes.

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