The need for a single, powerful law enforcement agency to fully investigate all aspects of Larry Nassar’s reign of terror is reaffirmed with each new detail in this sick, sordid scandal.
The Department of Justice. The FBI. A state attorney general’s office that’s truly committed, the way Pennsylvania was in not just convicting former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of molestation, but jailing his administrative enablers also.
So far everything has been patchwork, slow and inefficient. Nassar, 54, is serving 60 years after being sentenced this month on federal child pornography charges. He still faces additional state prison time after pleading guilty to sexual assault. And in all likelihood, he will never see the outside of a prison again for a sexual abuse scandal that on scale is exponentially greater than Sandusky.
The fog of confusion, however, will only increase until there are true investigations into Michigan State, where he worked, the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, where he volunteered and, Twistars Gymnastics Club, the Lansing-area operation with which he associated.
Wednesday brought word that in 2016, USA Gymnastics paid gold medal winner McKayla Maroney a reported $1.25 million to not publicly mention that she was abused by Nassar. It is a vomit-inducing revelation about the USAG, an organization that grew rich off the talents of young female athletes. Anyone with even cursory knowledge of it should resign immediately.
The news came not via law enforcement, though, but a civil suit filed in Los Angeles. Maroney previously chose to break the non-disclosure and detail Nassar’s attacks on social media and in a court-filed victim impact statement. The suit argues such agreements are illegal in California, where Maroney lived. Her attorney explained she made the deal only because she was, at the time, suicidal due to the trauma.
“She couldn’t function,” attorney John Manly told ESPN. “She couldn’t work. [The USGA was] willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of one of the most famous gymnasts in the world because they didn’t want the world to know they were protecting a pedophile doctor.”
The civil suit continues a trend in this vast and terrible story. The truth has come not from official investigative channels, none of which stopped Nassar. Every report, review and administrator failed the victims, either via incompetence, disorganization or, perhaps, worse.
The first alleged complaint about Nassar came in 1997, when a 16-year-old gymnast says she told MSU’s head gymnastics coach. Yet Nassar wasn’t busted until 2016, thanks to the investigative journalism of the Indianapolis Star which wrote about USA Gymnastics’ failure to report complaints of sexual assault. That story led two gymnasts to contact the paper about Nassar. After publication of that subsequent story, the floodgates opened, with some 125 women contacting a police tip line.
Then he was finally fired. Soon, child porn was uncovered on Nassar’s computer and he gave up the fight.
Prior to that, everything was an exercise in institutional failure. Multiple alleged reports to MSU coaches and trainers went nowhere. One police investigation turned up nothing. Strange conduct by Nassar, from seeing patients at his home to joking that his Facebook page was taken down because he had too many young girls as friends, were suspicions that escaped true action.
This week, a 19-page report was made public detailing interviews conducted by MSU police, with an FBI agent in tow, of Michigan State officials. It shows a brutal lacking of leadership, common sense and communication.
In 2014, a woman complained that Nassar molested her during treatment for an injury. Nassar claimed she “misinterpreted” a reasonable medical procedure, even though his fellow doctors knew such a procedure was exceedingly rare. Ever the manipulator, Nassar spun it all around and claimed to be the victim.
“I am very sorry for [redacted’s] interpretation of my actions during her appointment with me,” Nassar wrote in an email. “I am nauseated when I read her account of what occurred. Her interpretation of my mannerisms and actions makes me feel horrible … This has had a profound effect on me. I am truly sorry … I am emotionally drained and exhausted. Its impact will forever affect me.”
Dr. William Strampel, the dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar’s boss, barred Nassar from seeing patients as investigations were launched by both the campus police and MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. The latter assigned to the case a new hire in the school’s general counsel office with a background in labor law. Within three months it “exonerated” Nassar.
Strampel reinstated Nassar, but not before putting restrictions on him, which, an email detailed, included:
“1) We will have another person (resident, nurse, etc) in the room whenever we are approaching a patient to perform procedures of anything close to a sensitive area.
“2) The procedure which caused the patient emotional distress because of her interpretation will be modified in the future to be sure that there is little to no skin to skin contact when in these regions. Should this be absolutely necessary, the procedure will be explained in detail with another person in the room for both the explanation and procedure.”
While Strampel’s claim of “we will have …” suggests significant oversight, Nassar was actually allowed to operate on the honor system. No one informed patients, their parents or even the nurses in the office about the restrictions. Strampel told police “he did not see the need to follow-up to ensure that he was complying with the guidelines that were common sense for all physicians.” He didn’t tell “other employees in Sports Medicine … because they did not know about the investigation that had taken place, and since Dr. Nassar was cleared of all wrong doing.” Basically, Nassar was still considered an honorable man of medicine.
Also troubling is that while the MSU Title IX investigation had cleared him, Nassar was still under investigation by the campus police, which are more equipped to handle these kinds of cases.
Unfortunately, that too proved fruitless, not to mention terribly slow. It wasn’t until July 2015, some 14 months after the initial complaint, that police forwarded their investigation to Ingham (Michigan) County prosecutors. It took another five months, December 2015, for prosecutors to conclude they wouldn’t charge Nassar. Instead, a campus detective was sent to meet with Nassar and “advise” him to “thoroughly explain his medical technique to patients prior to touching them” as well as “have someone in the exam room at all times.”
Yet again, though, nothing was put in place to enforce that.
“At least 14 of my clients were assaulted after 2014,” said Mick Grewal, a Lansing-attorney representing dozens of Nassar’s victims. “That should not have happened. This was systematic failure by Michigan State.”
And yet, there is no announced sweeping investigation into Michigan State or USA Gymnastics or anyone else.
Bill Schuette, the attorney general of Michigan, has not authorized his office to go after MSU. That is the opposite of how the Pennsylvania attorney general handled the 2011 Sandusky scandal. It’s multiyear investigation led to convictions on not just Sandusky, but Penn State’s president, vice president and athletic director. Penn State also commissioned the law firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh to produce an exhaustive, and public, investigative report.
Where is the urgency, or effort, or concern here?
What’s known is troubling enough. What isn’t is potentially even scarier. Strampel reports to an MSU provost who then reports to president Lou Anna K. Simon. Are there emails or documents or testimony that would show Nassar’s actions were known up the chain, the way there were at Penn State?
Or how about with USA Gymnastics? How many non-disclosure agreements are there? How many people suspected Nassar? Why, in 2015, did Nassar suddenly leave his prominent role of working with the Olympic team? He told people back in Michigan it was over “politics.”
Nassar’s victims, let alone the public, have the right to know. Presently, there is only an MSU internal investigation that says it found no criminal behavior among school employees but, implausibly, ended without producing any written documents or notes, conveniently escaping freedom of information act requests.
Nassar likely molested hundreds of girls, from local preteen athletes to famed Olympic champions, terrorizing a chain of victims shockingly larger than even Sandusky (who has approximately 33 known victims).
Who knew what? Who knew it when? What else is there?
Somehow the truth is being left to be pieced together by civil suits and FOIA requests and random leaks, not by the attorney general or the FBI or the DOJ.
This was terrorism. Larry Nassar is a terrorist, of girls and gymnasts and families and communities.
If it could have, or should have, been stopped, then find out by who.
If there is a lesson to be learned going forward to prevent it from occurring again, then someone with real strength and real power needs to finally step up, find out and disclose it all.
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