Larry Nassar's Google searches, and other new insights into 2016 investigation
Before the FBI arrested Larry Nassar for child pornography possession in December 2016, he was googling “Is it illegal to not use gloves with intravaginal manipulations,” “intravaginal manipulations for back pain,” “vaginal massage,” and “Pubic Hair Removal Demonstration (18+) YouTube,” as police discovered after pulling 57,000 pages of search history from Nassar’s cell phone and laptop.
“The following is a sample of the searches found,” Michigan State University Police Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford wrote in her 2016 report:
pelvic floor manipulations in athletes Legal use of medical exam gloves Is it illegal not to use gloves with intervaginal manipulations Intravaginal manipulations for back pain Pubic Hair Removal Demonstration (18+) YouTube Vaginal massage Is it illegal not to use gloves with intravaginal manipulations
These and other details from police documents obtained by Michigan Radio shed light on how police were finally able to bring Larry Nassar to justice, nearly 20 years after survivors say they began reporting his abuse.
On August 25, 2016, Detective Sgt. Andrea Munford received a message from the 911 call center: A woman named Rachael Denhollander wanted to report a sexual assault against an MSU sports doctor who was very “big” in his field.
Nearly 18 months later, that same sports doctor would be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing patients under the guise of treatment.
Denhollander shows police what Nassar’s videos concealed
Denhollander and her husband, Jacob, sat down with Det. Sgt. Munford in late August of 2016. Denhollander told them as a teenager in 2000, Nassar repeatedly digitally penetrated her during multiple appointments. Both she and her mother noticed Nassar had a visible erection at two of those visits.
For years, Denhollander said, she’d been studying pelvic floor manipulation to confirm her suspicions that what Nassar had done to her wasn’t medical. She reviewed Nassar’s training videos and PowerPoints with MSU investigators, pointing out where “Nassar would have the same hand placement during her appointments with him so [her mother] would have been able to see the external massage but … [not] that Nassar’s other hand was under the towel penetrating her vagina and/or rectum,” the report says.
“What he is showing in those videos is legitimate, but what he was doing to me was not,” Denhollander told police. Those same videos and presentations had been critical in helping Nassar elude criminal charges in 2014, when graduate student Amanda Thomashow reported Nassar massaged her vagina and breast during an exam.
Nassar begins to crack under questioning
The next day, Det. Sgt. Munford interviewed Nassar at the police station on campus. “It should be noted that several times during this interview Nassar severely stuttered over his words,” Munford says in her report. She spent the first several minutes asking Nassar about the previous police investigation into him in 2014.
Nassar said since then, he’s tried to have other people in the room for such exams, but there have been instances where he’s unsupervised. “Sometimes, on occasion of course, that’s just the way medicine is now.”
When Munford told Nassar they’d received a second complaint, “Nassar replied, ‘Really?’ and his right foot began to bounce.” Munford said the victim and her mother both saw him with an erect penis, and repeatedly asked Nassar whether he’d ever had an erection while treating female patients.
Over the course of the interview, Nassar’s story changed. “Obviously you don’t” have an erection, he said at first. Then, later: “I have no understanding of why that would be occurring … I’m not trying to get my jollies out of this.” And finally: “…I mean if there was arousal iiiit (stutters) would be becaussssse (stutters) of whatever…. When you’re a guy, sometimes you get an erection … it’s embarrassing to have that happen …that’s not appropriate.”
Brooke Lemmen: why I took medical files at Nassar’s request
In mid-September of 2016, police got a heads up from a health administrator at MSU, Susan Dolby. Dolby wanted investigators to know one of Nassar's fellow MSU Sports Medicine doctors and close friends, Brooke Lemmen, had removed some of Nassar's medical files from the school at Nassar's request.
Dolby said Lemmen called her to tell her she was now having "second thoughts" about taking the records, and wanted to talk with Dolby before turning them over to Nassar. Dolby told Lemmen to return the records to MSU, where Dolby secured them in a locked cage.
Less than a week later, police interviewed Lemmen in her office. She said Nassar called her on September 12, asking if she could go pick up medical charts that might help him identify who the ‘Jane Doe’ was in a federal lawsuit recently filed against him. Lemmen told police she went to pick up the records, and almost immediately began having second thoughts. “He shouldn’t have those paper charts and if they are here anybody can get them,” Lemmen said she thought at the time.
According to the police report, Lemmen “stated that she wasn’t going to give the files to Nassar that night and as she was driving home she thought, he shouldn’t have these.” The next day, she called Dolby and returned the records.
A tearful Lemmen: “We all sin.”
Lemmen said she’d also talked with Nassar about his medical records back in August, when Nassar was suspended from work. Nassar told her “he wanted to review charts because he didn’t remember the patient who filed the report and asked where the charts might be kept. Lemmen stated she replied, ‘You shouldn’t get those. That would be bad.’”
“There is this accusation and it’s hard,” Lemmen told police. “This is a friend that is going through a crappy time. If he is guilty that is bad. We all sin. Some sins might be felt to be worse than others. I’m not that judge. I am still a friend.... [Nassar] is one of those people that I tell him I love him. Like I do. He is like a friend.”
"Nassar is one of those people that I tell him I love him."
One officer asked Lemmen if her relationship with Nassar was romantic. “Oh heavens no,” she said.
“I feel really vulnerable right now not knowing what I am supposed to do,” Lemmen told police, and started to cry. She’d read in the news that there were now 11 accusations against Nassar. “You can’t call 11 people crazy,” Lemmen said.
Lemmen speculated to police that maybe the women filing complaints against Nassar, had just misunderstood his legitimate medical techniques because they involved him touching their vaginal areas. “What’s happening? Is it not being explained well? Is there a misunderstanding? If I’m not sexually active…and I think the whole thing between my leg is a vagina then I might not have a great understanding of what just happened and I might have felt uncomfortable,” she said.
Lemmen added that as more complaints about Nassar had been in the news recently, she'd been getting calls from patients' coaches, wanting to know if their athletes might have been abused as well. According to the police report, "Lemmen stated her response was ‘I speak to what your kids may have seen. I can’t tell you how I do this. I can’t tell you how he did it. If you are concerned you should report this. That’s like admitting guilt. It’s not fun.’”
She told police she’d also received a message from a mom whose daughter had been treated by both herself and Nassar, talking about “all these terrible things I can’t unhear in my mind.” Lemmen said she contacted Sue Dolby to ask if this was something she, Lemmen, should report. The mother then sent Lemmen a Facebook message telling her she’d been in touch with a detective.
Despite numerous complaints, one of Nassar's superiors remained doubtful about claims of sexual abuse
Days later, police also interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Kovan, who was then the head team physician and the director of Sports Medicine and Performance at MSU. Kovan told investigators he’d “first become aware of accusations against Nassar” in 2014, when William Strampel, then the Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, told him Nassar was being placed on suspension temporarily “until it worked itself out.”
Kovan told police he didn’t know if Nassar was performing intra-vaginal procedures at MSU, although he was aware that Nassar did “some procedures from the rectal perspective…”
“The thing that has been so complicated with this is that is part of [Nassar’s] practice and I said to someone else, there has been 16 other people that have come out with complaints and the numbers should be well into the hundreds,” Kovan told police in that interview. “For many years this is why he has the skill set and the expertise that he does, because he does these procedures and the rest of us don’t.”
When the university fired Nassar, “we were livid,” Kovan said. He said they were just now learning that after the 2014 investigation, Strampel told Nassar he needed to follow specific protocols, like wearing gloves and having a chaperone present.
“Kovan stated he is unsure if Nassar did anything wrong since he was not in the examination room,” police said in their report. “Kovan stated that Nassar is a good person with a good core, who believes people are good.... Kovan stated the procedure and the things Nassar stated Nassar was doing were intended for the right reasons…. Kovan stated Nassar is too good of a person, with the right intentions, to end up in prison.”
Police search Nassar’s home, seize his Facebook and Gmail records
Unlike the 2014 investigation into Thomashow’s report, in 2016 MSU Police spoke with multiple medical experts outside of Michigan State University to determine whether Nassar’s medical techniques were legitimate.
They also received search warrants for Nassar’s Facebook and Gmail accounts, and on September 20 2016, several MSU police officers searched his home.
Among the evidence police confiscated at Nassar's home: boxes of medical records from his basement, six external hard drives, three cell phones, at least 20 VHS tapes, several DVDs and one box of Olympic memorabilia.
One officer noticed that trash collectors hadn’t yet picked up the brown Granger trash bins at the end of Nassar’s driveway. Inside, police found a large gym bag with a smaller plastic grocery bag wedged inside, holding three hard drives labeled “Dr. Larry Nassar USA Gymnastics” and “USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, MSU Sports Medicine.”
Three months later, the FBI testified in federal court that those drives contained more than 37,000 images of child pornography. Nassar was sentenced earlier this year to 60 years in federal prison on those charges.
A closed investigation
On January 26, 2018, Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford closed the MSU PD’s criminal investigation into Nassar with a one-sentence report: “On 1/24/2018, Nassar was sentenced by 30th Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to 40 to 175 years.”
On December 27, 2016, an attorney for Brooke Lemmen sent a letter to then-Dean William Strampel, Lemmen’s boss at the time, warning him not to fire Lemmen from her post at MSU. “She should be commended for not taking the risk of having these files fall into Dr. Nassar’s hands once she was asked to remove them by Dr. Nassar,” the attorney wrote.
But one month later, Lemmen handed in her resignation letter to Dr. Strampel. “After more than six years of dedicated service in the academic world, I am looking forward to pursuing potential employment opportunities in a traditional hospital setting,” she wrote.
Both Drs. Lemmen and Jeffrey Kovan have been named in civil suits filed by Nassar’s victims. Michigan State University recently reentered mediation with the survivors’ attorneys, while also filing repeated motions to dismiss their lawsuits.
Kovan is still listed online as a faculty member in MSU’s Sports Medicine department.
Strampel, meanwhile, was arrested last week. He’s facing charges of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly groping and sexually harassing a medical student, and willful neglect of duty by a public official for allegedly “failing to enforce protocols upon Larry Nassar” and allowing him to treat patients while the 2014 Title IX investigation played out.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show Nassar's criminal investigation was closed on January 24, 2018, not January 1 2016 as previously stated.