MSU student: Gymnastics team told not to talk to police about alleged abuse
Members of the MSU women's gymnastics team were told to say "no comment" to any reporters or police asking about sexual abuse allegations against the team physician, Dr. Larry Nassar.
That’s according to a lawsuit (which you can read here) filed by a scholarship student on the team, who also says she was repeatedly assaulted by Nassar as a child.
A team meeting in September
“The gymnastics team was a called into a meeting [in September 2016...]” says the woman’s lawyer, Jamie White. "And a representative from the university came to talk to the girls, informed them that Mr. Nassar was under investigation, and went on to tell them that they were not to speak with anybody about this, including the media, their families, the authorities, and so on.”
The student athlete is identified in court filings as Jane Y Doe, now one of more than 30 alleged victims who say Dr. Nassar used his position as a well-respected Olympic gymnastics doctor and MSU faculty member to abuse them.
Her attorney says she didn’t recognize the school official who told the team, in September 2016, not to answers questions from reporters or police. Instead, White says, they were told to refer all questions to the MSU legal department.
“The impression that she had at that point in time, was that she was not to discuss anything involving Dr. Nassar,” he says. “And what’s particular about our client, is they did a follow up with her. And told her, her cell phone could be subject to checks. And she interpreted that as being, you know, in the event that she was to talk to someone, they might find out about it. And she was quite intimidated by that, especially in light of the fact that she was a victim.”
In a statement, university spokesperson Jason Cody declined to say whether MSU is investigating whether any staff members discouraged students from talking to police.
“It is not appropriate to offer comment on ongoing litigation, especially on matters that may be subject of an ongoing criminal investigation or internal review,” Cody said in an email Wednesday. “What I can tell you is MSU Police are investigating all allegations thoroughly. If evidence is uncovered that an MSU employee sought to interfere with the criminal case or prevent individuals from coming forward, we will take appropriate action. The university will not tolerate any interference with the investigation.”
Head coach steps down after being suspended
Women’s gymnastics Head Coach Kathie Klages announced her retirement Tuesday, one day after being suspended by MSU.
Two women say they told Klages about Nassar’s alleged abuse back in the 1990’s, but claim she downplayed their concerns and told them they “misunderstood” legitimate medical practices.
In a statement sent out Tuesday, Klages' attorney says she was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations against Nassar. "Had she ever received any information to cast doubt on the appropriateness of that trust in Dr. Nassar, she would have reacted immediately to protect her gymnasts. "
But Athletic Director Mark Hollis said Klages’ suspension related to “allegations that members of the women's gymnastics team were discouraged from cooperating with the ongoing law enforcement investigation of Dr. Nassar.”
In a letter to Klages released Tuesday (you can read it here,) Hollis claims the coach’s “passionate defense of Dr. Nassar created an emotionally charged environment for the team” at a September 12, 2016 team meeting.
But Coach Klages wasn’t the one who told the team that they shouldn’t talk to police, or that their phones might be checked, says Jamie White.
White says his client, the student athlete, has provided a “physical description” of those two staffers, but doesn’t know their names.
Athlete's mom: Klages told me child porn may have been "planted"
Meanwhile, White says his client’s mother followed up with Coach Klages after the September 2016 meeting.
By then, Dr. Nassar was facing federal charges for possessing child pornography. And after believing that she’d just been receiving legitimate medical treatment all these years, Jane Y Doe now told her mother she believed she’d been abused – including Nassar repeatedly penetrating her anally and digitally with his fingers, according to court documents.
In all, her suit claims, Nassar molested her on “approximately six hundred different occasions. Plaintiff suffered several bladder infections during this time, which may have been the result of Nassar’s treatment.”
Still, when her mother confronted Coach Klages, Klages was adamant that Nassar was innocent of any wrongdoing, White says.
“Coach Klages told her in no uncertain terms that her daughter was misreading what had occurred. And what had occurred to her was legitimate medical treatment … and my client’s mother said, ‘Well what about the child pornography? Doesn’t that give you some alarm?’”
“And Coach Klages went on to tell her that she thought the child pornography had been planted, potentially, by someone who had some other interest in a lawsuit or something. Coach Klages then went on to say, ‘I would trust this man with my daughters and my granddaughters.’”
Klages’ attorney did not return multiple requests for comment.