Thursday, December 8, 2022

Takeaways from update on Attorney General’s investigation into MSU, Nassar

December 21, 2018
Special prosecutor and lead investigator Bill Forsyth exits the press conference on March 27, 2018 at 525 W. Ottawa in Lansing.
Special prosecutor and lead investigator Bill Forsyth exits the press conference on March 27, 2018 at 525 W. Ottawa in Lansing. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

In an update on the Michigan Attorney General’s investigation into MSU’s handling of reports of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, Special Prosecutor William Forsyth said MSU redacted or withheld documents, made false public statements and was overall primarily concerned about its image and reputation. 

Investigators have contacted almost 550 people — including interviews with over 280 Nassar survivors — and have reviewed approximately 105,000 documents so far, according to the report detailing the investigation.

Attorney-client privilege

At a press conference Friday morning, Forsyth said the investigation is not over, as there are still about 177 documents that have not been released by MSU. 

Forsyth said MSU handed over many documents that were irrelevant to Nassar, and the university redacted or didn’t release many of the documents because of claims of attorney-client privilege. 

He said the investigation can’t be completed and the Attorney General’s Office will never know what happened unless the attorney-client privilege is waived and the documents are reviewed. 

“Sometimes in life things are more important than money and finances,” Forsyth said. “In this case, the survivors and the public — I think — deserve to know what happened here, but it’s pretty clear they’re not going to waive the privilege.”

Forsyth said attorney-client privilege is legally legitimate, but that some documents and information can be released without violating the privilege. 

“This started in part because the Board of Trustees at Michigan State asked the Attorney General to come investigate,” he said.

Interim President John Engler previously told The State News that the AG's investigation was over after former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon was charged with lying to investigators.

"I should say that I presume things will change in terms of how she functions as attorney general, but in terms of Michigan State, there’s really nothing left pending because the charges brought against former President Simon conclude the Attorney General’s investigation," Engler said.

MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said the university had thought the investigation was complete.

"We believed the investigation had concluded, which is why the Interim President made that statement," Guerrant said in an email. 

University attitude throughout Attorney General's investigation

In the 16-page report detailing the Attorney General’s investigation and at the press conference, Forsyth said MSU’s biggest concern was their reputation and that the university “stonewalls the very investigation it pledged to support.”

According to the report, MSU issued misleading public statements, drowned investigators in irrelevant documents, waged needless battles over documents and asserted attorney-client privilege even when it didn’t apply.

“These actions warrant extended discussion because they highlight a common thread we encountered throughout the investigation into how the University handled allegations against Nassar,” Forsyth said in the report. “Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation.”

Forsyth said the university put on a face of compliance by asking for the Attorney General’s Office to step up and investigate how reports against Nassar were handled, but has since put a major halt on the investigation with using attorney-client privilege as an excuse to not release certain information.

“The problem here was, the decision to hire a private law firm to do their internal investigation made it almost impossible to ever find out what happened because they do the internal investigation and they won’t turn over the results of the investigation,” Forsyth said. “When asked for the report about the internal investigation, they tell us there is no report.” 

Forsyth said he understands there are legal and financial drawbacks for the university in revealing information from the internal investigation, but the university can’t have it both ways — either they are compliant in the investigation they called for or not. 

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He said though MSU is within their legal rights, they have circled the wagons in protecting the university first.

“MSU’s strategy was essentially circle the wagons,” Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi said. “Every trustee toed the line when it came with that, including those trustees who have publicly indicated that they’re supportive of the survivors and advocate change — even those trustees toed the line.”

Forsyth said he can’t deny that MSU has made some institutional changes in an effort to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. However, he said he is frustrated that MSU has not come out publicly with the results of the private investigation or taken responsibility for its inaction.

He said a culture change is incumbent on people — including university leaders — not on policies.

“You can implement all you want but until the people who are going to be in charge of them do what they’re expected to do, it won’t change,” he said.

The report said, “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.”

"We are extraordinarily sorry that Larry Nassar was on our campus and has hurt so many people," Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said in a statement. "The university is engaged in – and investing in – an intense reform and cultural change effort to ensure that Michigan State University is a safe campus for students, faculty, staff and our community.

"Today's announcement shows that the attorney general’s office has found no criminal conduct beyond those formerly charged, even after reviewing more than a half million documents and interviewing 500 people. We appreciate the attorney general’s investigation and the hard work of the many people involved."

11 MSU employees knew of Nassar’s abuse

The Attorney General’s Office said the investigation has found 11 MSU employees were told about Nassar’s abuse, and Forsyth said at least two of the employees are still working as trainers in the MSU Athletic Department.

Those named in the report include Kathie Klages, former MSU Gymnastics coach who has been charged with two counts of lying to peace officer; Gary Stollak, MSU professor who Kyle Stephens told of Nassar’s abuse in 1998; Kelli Bert, Heena Shah Trivedi, Lianna Hadden, Tony Robles, Brooke Lemmen, Lionel Rosen, Rebecca Cass, David Jager and Jeffrey Kovan. 

Future of investigation and criminal prosecution

Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi said the next step for the investigation is pushing further to retrieve documents that may have been incorrectly classified as privileged and moving forward in criminal prosecutions.

The individuals charged in the Attorney General’s office investigation are:

  • William Strampel; Former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine whose charges include two counts of willful neglect of duty related to Nassar, one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and a felony misconduct in office.
  • Kathie Klages; Former head MSU gymnastics coach facing two charges of lying to a police officer about her knowlege of Nassar’s abuse.
  • Lou Anna K. Simon; Former Michigan State President who resigned Jan. 24 when Nassar was sentenced in Ingham County to 40 to 175 years. She faces similar charges to Klages, four counts of lying to investigators.

Grossi said as an alumni of MSU, this is personal watching the school “continue to fail” to do the right thing by its community.

“It’s been difficult because you want to see the university get past this and I think some of the actions that they’ve taken have prevented that from happening,” Grossi said. “Until there are changes I worry that the school won’t recover and certainly the survivors won’t have closure.”

Stay with The State News for more updates on the investigation.

This story was updated at 12:34 p.m. on Dec. 22 to include university response to the update on the AG's investigation. 


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