One year after resigning because of the Larry Nassar scandal, Michigan State University’s former president, Lou Anna Simon, is heading back to court Tuesday. She’s facing four charges of lying to the police about her knowledge of the Nassar case.
Tuesday is the first day of Simon’s preliminary exam, which is a probable cause hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence to take the case to trial. Usually preliminary exams are pretty low key, but given how high profile this case is and that both the prosecution and defense will deliver opening statements and call witnesses, this may end up feeling like a full-fledged trial.
Simon tells police: I only knew a sports doc was under review
The whole case centers on MSU’s 2014 investigation into Larry Nassar, the former sports doctor and Olympic gymnastics physician who sexually abused hundreds of women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
Back in the spring of 2014, graduate student Amanda Thomashow reported that Nassar had massaged her breast, butt, and vaginal area without consent. She also told the school’s Title IX investigator, Kristine Moore, and MSU Police Detective Val O’Brien, that Nassar had attempted to digitally penetrate her before she stopped him, and that she’d seen him with a visible erection.
But neither Moore nor O’Brien included Thomashow’s statements about Nassar’s attempted penetration or his erection in their reports. Both the Title IX investigation and MSU police department’s criminal investigation cleared Nassar and allowed him to return to work, where he continuing abusing patients until 2016.
Last year, Nassar was given what amounts to a life sentence. Then in May of 2018, two Michigan State Police detectives interviewed former president Lou Anna Simon as part of their investigation into, “whether MSU employees or other officers helped conceal or otherwise facilitate Dr. Nassar’s first-degree criminal sexual conduct and whether public officials at MSU committed misconduct in office in connection with the University’s handling of allegations against Dr. Nassar.”
The detectives asked Simon, “whether she was ‘aware of any prior investigation with Larry Nassar’ or his ‘misconduct’ before news of his sexual assaults became public in 2016,” according to their affidavit.
Police say Simon told them, “I was aware that in 2014 there was a sports medicine doc who was subject to a review. But I was not aware of any of the substance of that review, the nature of the complaint, that was all learned in ‘16…”
Police: Simon was quickly alerted to the Nassar complaint
But police say they uncovered a trail of documents, emails and notes that put Simon in a meeting with MSU’s Title IX director, where she was specifically debriefed on details of Thomashow’s complaint against Nassar.
The morning after Thomashow reported Nassar, the school’s Title IX investigator, Kristine Moore, called her boss, Paulette Granberry Russell, and told Russell about Thomashow’s complaint. That’s according to the police affidavit.
Russell told police that she asked Moore, “to send her the details of Ms. Thomashow’s complaint. Several hours later, Moore emailed Russell at Russell’s personal email address, with the subject line ‘Overview of claim we discussed.’”
Moore included a rundown of some of the details, including Thomashow’s name, Nassar’s name and position, and that Thomashow said Nassar massaged her breast, butt and vagina “under underwear, for 1-2 minutes…as one would if they were getting intimate.”
Police say just three days later, Russell had a meeting with then-president Simon in which the Nassar investigation was discussed. The affidavit lists evidence including a file folder of Russell brought to the meeting with a note stating, “Sports Med, Dr. Nassar, SA.” Russell told police the “SA” notation stands for sexual assault.
Next to Simon’s copy of the meeting agenda, police say the found a note reading “COM” next to the section entitled, “Sexual Assault Cases.” Police believe the COM stands for College of Osteopathic Medicine, where Nassar worked.
Police hint that Simon, others may have covered up Nassar complaint
In their affidavit, police say this adds up to Simon deliberately concealing how much she knew about the Nassar investigation into 2014.
That’s critical, they say, because what she actually knew back then is, “critical factual information for agents investigating whether the University President or other public officials committed misconduct in office by concealing or diminishing allegations of sexual assault against a world-renowned doctor affiliated with MSU in an effort to protect the reputation and financial well-being of the institution.”
Whether they have additional evidence beyond what’s presented in the affidavit remains to be seen. Look for both detectives who interviewed Simon last year to be called as witnesses. Also important will be the former Title IX director, Paulette Granberry Russell. (She still works at MSU, as does the former investigator, Kristine Moore. Moore has since been promoted.) If Russell confirms that she told Simon details about the Nassar allegation in 2014, she’ll be a critical witness for the prosecution. But police didn’t include any statements from Russell herself on that issue in the affidavit they filed in court.
Simon’s attorneys did not respond to request for comment for this article, but they have vehemently denied the charges. One of her lawyers, Mayer Morganroth, told ESPN’s Dan Murphy that the indictment is “totally false” and “strictly political.”
"'In a final analysis, they'll pay for it,' said Detroit-based attorney Mayer Morganroth. When asked to clarify what he meant by that comment, he said, ‘I'll take care of that. You figure it out, but they'll pay for it.’”
Of the four charges Simon is facing, two counts are felonies carrying up to four years and/or a $5,000 fine. The other two are misdemeanors carrying up to two years and/or a $5,000 fine.