Nassar continued to work during MSU police investigation, victims say assaults continued
No one at Michigan State University followed up to make sure that Larry Nassar was complying with policies put in place by MSU following a Title IX sexual assault investigation in 2014. Instead, the school allowed Nassar to return to work, even as its own campus police investigation into Nassar continued for more than a year.
That’s the takeaway from a 19-page report from the MSU Police Department, conducted in partnership with the FBI in March. Originally obtained and reported by the Lansing State Journal, Michigan State University provided these documents to Michigan Radio late Tuesday night.
Seven current and former MSU employees were interviewed by law enforcement as part of this investigation, in order to find out “whether any procedures or guidelines … were communicated and followed,” writes Detective Sgt. Christopher Rozman. “As part of this investigation, I also probed whether any criminal statutes were violated by others during the Nassar sexual assault investigation.”
Nassar welcomed back in 2014, goes on to assault at least a dozen victims
In late summer of 2016, Rachael Denhollander told the Indiana Star about being abused by Nassar as a young patient. Since then, more than 100 women and girls have come forward with similar stories. Several say they told MSU employees as far back as 1997 about Nassar’s practice of digitally penetrating them during treatment, without gloves or consent. Many of them are suing MSU, claiming the school failed to protect them.
Nassar was sentenced this month to 60 years in federal prison for possessing thousands of images of child pornography. He’s also pleaded guilty in state court to abusing multiple patients under the guise of treatment, and faces sentencing in those cases next month.
But back in 2014, a graduate student at MSU did make an official Title IX complaint about Nassar. She’d seen him for hip pain, but instead Nassar had groped her breasts and massaged her vaginal area, and was “extremely close to inserting a finger into her vaginal opening,” according to the woman’s lawsuit.
She then promptly filed a complaint with MSU’s Title IX office, which triggered a criminal investigation by the school’s police department as well.
The school’s Title IX investigator, Kristine Moore, wrapped up her investigation and cleared Nassar of wrongdoing in July 2014.
William Strampel, then the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, sent Nassar an email saying he was “happy this has resolved to some extend [sic] and I am happy to have you back in full practice.”
That email, which was forwarded to Kristine Moore, also outlines three policies Nassar and Strampel have agreed to:
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… 3) New people in our practice will be oriented to be sure they understand these requirements."
Meanwhile, MSU police were still in the midst of an open criminal sexual conduct investigation into Nassar – one they would eventually send to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office in July 2015, a full year after Nassar had been allowed to return to work.
“It should be noted that at least twelve assaults have been reported that occurred after 7/30/2014,” the date Nassar returned to work, the police report says. “Many of the sexual assaults occurred in examination rooms at MSU Sports Medicine and involved the lack of a chaperone during sensitive procedures and un-gloved skin-to-skin contact.”
No enforcement of “common sense” policies
MSU PD and the FBI interviewed Dr. William Strampel, then the Dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, on March 13 of this year. (Strampel stepped down from that job last week, and is currently on medical leave, according to the university.)
At the time, Strampel told police he didn’t have any contact with Nassar until the 2014 allegations, at which point he immediately removed Nassar from “clinical duties and ordered him to have no patient contact.”
Eventually, Strampel says he was “told that Dr. Nassar was ‘cleared’ and could return to work.” It was his own choice to email Nassar about “common sense medical guidelines,” he said.
“When asked about accountability and follow-up to ensure that Dr. Nassar was complying with the guidelines, Strampel said that having a chaperone in the room when performing a sensitive exam is ‘health care 101’ and all doctors learn this in medical school,” the report says.
“Strampel said because Dr. Nassar was ‘cleared of all charges’ and ‘exonerated,’ he did not see the need to follow-up.… Strampel also said he had to be conscious of sharing with other employees in Sports Medicine (specifically nurses and medical assistants) because they did not know about the investigation that had taken place, and since Dr. Nassar was cleared of all wrong doing, he didn’t feel it was appropriate to tell them about it.”
Other employees and administrators interviewed in this investigation say they were never formally instructed that Nassar was supposed to follow any specific guidelines or conditions. “How do we enforce those things when we didn’t even know about them,” a former clinic director asked police.
MSU employees say they saw “red flags,” but never suspected abuse
Dr. Douglas Dietzel served as the head of orthopedic surgery and as a clinic director for MSU Sports Medicine, and told police he worked with Nassar as both his colleague and a supervisor.
He knew Nassar did some kind of intravaginal procedure, but was vague on the details and “didn’t really understand it,” as it wasn’t his area of expertise. Patients never told him they were uncomfortable around Nassar, he said. “We have seen hundreds of the same patients. Not a single patient or parent has said anything at all.”
When asked about “red flags,” Dietzel told police Nassar did a lot of “consulting on his Facebook page and communicated with a lot of young girls for treatment recommendations.” That’s a common theme among MSU employees interviewed: that Nassar was on Facebook all the time, communicating with young patients, and that at one point Nassar’s Facebook profile had been “shut down.”
Dr. Michael Shingles, a surgeon with MSU Sports Medicine who’s also in charge of financial management, said Nassar had “gotten kicked off of Facebook” and remembers him “joking about it in the office saying something about getting kicked off because of all the kids he was friends with on Facebook.” Shingles said he assumed it was a joke.
Several employees also say they knew Nassar had stopped working with USA Gymnastics in 2015, but either assumed or were told by Nassar that it was his own choice. USA Gymnastics says they fired Nassar in 2015 because of athlete complaints.
On March 15, MSU PD Detective Andrea Munford interviewed Destiny Teachnor-Hauk, supervising athletic trainer who worked closely with Nassar for years.
“I advised Destiny that victims had reported that athletic trainers knew of Nassar’s treatments and joked with the athletes about the treatments being very personal,” Det. Munford writes in the report. “Destiny said she does recall that occurring, and that she assumed they were referring to the sacrotuberous ligament adjustment, because it involves hand placement near the area (but not on) the vagina.
“Destiny said she recalls a specific time when gymnast [redacted] was talking to another athlete and said something to the effect of Nassar being in her private area. Destiny said that [redacted] was laughing and did not seem uncomfortable…. Destiny said the other times she had heard comments by athletes about Nassar they were ‘no more extreme’ than [name redacted.] Destiny said she has never had an athlete tell her that Nassar made them uncomfortable.”
Munford says Teachnor-Hauk was aware of one athlete going to Nassar’s home for treatment, but that this did not “raise any red flags” for her.
Two people on the report’s witness list are not mentioned or interviewed in the documents provided by Michigan State University: Kristine Moore, the Title IX investigator at the time of the school’s 2014 investigation into Nassar, and Brooke Lemmen, a former MSU sports medicine doctor who worked closely with Nassar and resigned after removing patient files at Nassar’s request.
Michigan State University did not provide any additional comment.
Updated December 20 at 5:24 pm: Michigan State University issued the following statement.
“On May 15, 2014, the MSU Police Department received its first report about Larry Nassar. Police immediately began a criminal investigation, and the MSU administration also immediately began a Title IX investigation. It is important to remember, the criminal investigations conducted by MSU Police are done independently and without influence from the MSU administration. While a criminal investigation may prompt a review of an employee’s status, those processes are separate from one another. In this case, as soon as the MSU administration was aware of the allegation, we took immediate action and began a Title IX investigation. That investigation, in July 2014 and based upon the information known at that time, concluded there was no finding of a policy violation by Nassar. Thus, Nassar returned to work. On the criminal investigation, it is important to note that from the early stages, MSU Police detectives made multiple contacts with the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office. Each time, prosecutors indicated this was not a chargeable case. Despite that, a thorough investigation was completed and the report was submitted to that office for review and consideration of charges. This is consistent with the MSUPD practice of forwarding all investigations involving sexual assault to the prosecutor for review. The final decision by the prosecutor’s office was not to authorize criminal charges.” --MSU spokesperson Jason Cody