Nassar victims respond to plea deal, call for change at MSU
In response to ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's guilty plea to seven first degree criminal sexual conduct charges in court Wednesday, some of the women and girls who were sexually abused are calling for change and transparency at MSU.
Three women and their attorneys held a press conference following the plea hearing. The women included Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, Lindsey Lemke, a current member of MSU's gymnastics team and Kaylee Lorincz, a gymnast at Adrian College.
The women were joined by their attorneys, John Manly, Stephen Drew and James White. They reacted to the plea deal and urged MSU to release the internal investigation into Nassar's role at MSU. The internal review is being led by Patrick Fitzgerald of Skadden Arps.
"Clearly, Michigan State has a culture of secrecy," Manly said during the press conference. "And they don't get it. If you want to stop this, come clean. Fix what happened, get rid of those that did it and move forward. And instead, what you're getting is stonewalling. That is not acceptable."
Manly represents six of Nassar's victims in California and more than 100 victims in Michigan in lawsuits against Nassar, MSU and others. He said he believes the total number of victims is between 150 and 160 and he continues to get calls.
"[MSU] had an opportunity here to make this right. They had an opportunity here — instead of being Penn State — to make this a beacon of how to handle this. And they've blown it. It's too late. You can't fix this now. It's too late."
Manly called for investigations of Nassar's involvement at MSU from other entities besides Skadden Arps, which is being funded by MSU. He said he would appeal to the Michigan Attorney General to reconsider whether or not to investigate and said it would be appropriate to utilize an FBI task force.
Ultimately, Manly said he believes someone outside the university system should be hired to do an independent investigation — someone who is not funded by MSU.
Manly also noted the lack of comment on the national controversy from public officials, with the exception of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, calling the lack of interest and lack of statements "stunning."
"This is how Michigan State is going to bury themselves. You know, the key is, acknowledge the harm, acknowledge responsibility and make it right," Manly said. "Institutions are fragile, and often they don't realize it until it's too late."
In response to these allegations, MSU spokesperson Jason Cody said via email that MSU denies these accusations.
"As they have done before, today the plaintiffs’ attorneys have made accusations against the university claiming it is engaged in a 'cover up of misconduct by university administrators.' The university unequivocally denies this accusation," Cody said in an email. "Moreover, MSU has consistently promised if it were to find any employee knew of and acquiesced in Nassar’s misconduct, the university would immediately report it to law enforcement.
Other Nassar victims who attended the plea hearing have similar thoughts on how MSU should be held accountable.
Larissa Boyce, one of these women, was sexually abused by Nassar as a gymnast in MSU's Youth Gymnastics program in the late 1990s. She's now 37.
Boyce first came forward publicly in March, when she chose to shed her anonymous identity, "Jane BMSU Doe." Boyce is not one of the women behind the seven charges Nassar pleaded guilty to. She is, instead, involved in one of the many lawsuits against Nassar and MSU.
"This behavior was enabled, and MSU needs to be transparent," Boyce said. "If [MSU is] saying that they are creating a cultural change on campus, they need to be transparent about it and release the internal investigation. They need to hold people accountable and responsible for enabling this. That would give it a little bit of integrity."
At 23 years old, Jessica Smith said she was a patient of Nassar's at his MSU clinic in 2012. She was not a gymnast but a dancer who was being treated for an ankle injury when she was abused. She also hopes MSU will release the internal investigation.
"The internal investigation, I feel if MSU had nothing to hide and was confident that the sole issue was the man now behind bars, then that information would have been released," Smith said. "And I do not feel as though I can heal completely until that information is out. Until I feel that MSU is moving forward and not still holding onto the past and covering things up."
Cody also said in the emailed statement that MSU did not find any evidence of criminal conduct by any employee other than Nassar.
"As for the call for an independent investigation, the FBI and MSU Police Department conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct," Cody said via email. "The results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. We have no reason to believe that any criminal conduct was found."
The women also reacted to Nassar's apology during the plea hearing. Nassar apologized during a statement made after he pleaded guilty to child sexual assault charges.
"I want them to heal," Nassar said. "I want this community to heal. I have no animosity towards anyone, I just want healing. It's time. So I guess that's the biggest thing. We need to move forward in the sense of growth and healing and I pray for that."
But Nassar's victims aren't buying it.
Boyce said she feels the apology was another manipulation tactic.
Smith said the doctor patients trusted simply doesn't exist and said Nassar was not who patients thought he was.
Alexis Alvarado, a 19 year old gymnast and patient of Nassar's, said she does not think the apology is real.
"It's just hard to believe an apology like this," Alvarado said. "Being a doctor, what he was, he went to med school. You know how this can hurt people. You know how this can affect everyone. And if you know that, then why would you do it purposefully? So no, I do not accept it. I do not accept his apology, I don't think it's real."
Nassar is accused of sexually abusing more than 140 women and girls, ranging from local gymnasts to Olympic athletes, under the guise of medical treatment.
He was arrested in December 2016 on charges of possessing “at least 37,000” images of child pornography to which he pleaded guilty. His sentencing for these charges is set for Dec. 7. Nassar, alongside MSU and USA Gymnastics, is also a defendant in a number of lawsuits.
Nassar's sentencing for his Ingham County case, where he pleaded guilty to seven first degree criminal sexual conduct charges, is set for Jan. 12.
A plea hearing in Nassar's Eaton County case is scheduled for Nov. 29. It's expected Nassar will plead guilty to the criminal sexual misconduct charges in Eaton County as well.
Stay with The State News for more coverage on ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Other stories on victims and cases are found under the 'Larry Nassar coverage' tag.
Editor's note: This story was last updated at 5:02 p.m. to include comments from MSU spokesperson Jason Cody.