Michigan State OKs independent probe of handling of Nassar

Sports

FILE – In this Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, Larry Nassar listens as Melissa Alexander Vigogne gives her victim statement in Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich. USA Gymnastics is overhauling its Safe Sport policy in hopes of providing better protection for athletes and clearer guidelines for coaches, parents, trainers and club owners on what constitutes abuse.
The organization released the new policy on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, after consulting with a wide spectrum of people inside and outside the sport. The group included child welfare advocates and survivors of emotional and sexual abuse, including one athlete abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State University on Friday authorized what officials said would be an independent investigation into the handling of sexual assault complaints against now-imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar, the school’s latest attempt to rebuild trust with his victims and the campus community.

The board of trustees voted unanimously to hire Chicago-based law firm McDermott Will & Emery to investigate and release a public report. The move came about 2½ years after trustees said an internal review was being led by Patrick Fitzgerald, a former Chicago federal prosecutor with the New York-based firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

That review came under criticism because the firm was also assisting the university in anticipation of civil lawsuits and facilitating cooperation with law enforcement following Nassar’s 2016 arrest. No report was made public.

“Today, this board together as one has decided to rip off the Band-Aid,” said trustee Brian Mosallam. “The results of this investigation will be shared with all of you in a public report. … There will be accountability.”

He credited three Nassar victims — former gymnasts Rachael Denhollander, Sarah Klein and Sterling Riethman — for working with and pushing the trustees to act.

Details on the scope, cost and timeline for the pending investigation have not been worked out.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is investigating the university’s handling of Nassar, questioned the new probe and again called for the school to waive its attorney-client privilege and release documents.

“Michigan State University lacks the credibility necessary to conduct a legitimate investigation,” she said in a written statement. “Over the past few years, it has launched several investigations including an ‘independent investigation’ conducted by Patrick Fitzgerald in 2016. Unsurprisingly, it has cleared its employees of culpability each time.”

But Denhollander, the first woman to go public against Nassar, said the investigation will be entirely independent and culminate in a transparent, comprehensive report that will not be edited by anyone at Michigan State. She said the examination will extend beyond the scope of the attorney general’s investigation since “most of what took place at MSU was not illegal, despite the deep damage.”

“It should have been done three years ago,” she said on Facebook. “But is not too late to begin doing what is right, and I support this first step in that direction, while remaining firm that the truth must be told, no matter what the cost.”

Nessel’s predecessor charged three current or former school officials with crimes, including ex-president Lou Anna Simon, who is accused of lying to police. In 2017, Fitzgerald told then-Attorney General Bill Schuette there was no evidence that school officials knew Nassar was molesting young female athletes under the guise of treatment.

Michigan State has reached financial settlements with 391 girls or women who say Nassar abused them, including 332 in an initial wave for whom $425 million was allocated and 59 in a second wave who will receive nearly $28 million of $75 million that was set aside for future claims. The lawsuits of an additional 116 plaintiffs are pending.

At least one victim in the second wave, along with the parents of other victims, said during Friday’s board meeting that they are being treated unfairly compared with those who sued earlier and were eligible for a cut of the $425 million award.

Lana Horning, a former gymnast who said Nassar began abusing her at age 11, told the trustees she should not be penalized “because it took me longer to understand and accept that I too was a victim. … If you want to fix what went wrong and create a culture where this will never happen again, you have to start by fixing who was hurt and allowing us to heal.”

University spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said school officials are committed to a “fair process” in settling claims.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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For more stories on Larry Nassar and the fallout from his years of sexual abusing young women and girls: https://www.apnews.com/LarryNassar

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