Nassar-related case dismissed against ex-university chief
DETROIT (AP) — A judge dismissed criminal charges Wednesday against former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, who was accused of lying to investigators in 2018 as they tried to learn what she knew years earlier about sexual assault complaints involving Larry Nassar.
Simon last year was ordered to trial in Eaton County, near Lansing. But Circuit Judge John Maurer tossed the case, saying a lower court judge had abused her discretion in finding enough evidence to keep the case going.
Nassar, who was a campus doctor, is serving decades in prison. Hundreds of women and girls, mostly gymnasts, said he molested them during visits for hip, back and leg injuries.
The charges against Simon centered on a 2018 interview with investigators who said they wanted to know what officials at the East Lansing school knew about Nassar.
Authorities alleged that Simon knew in 2014 that Nassar had been accused of molesting a patient at a campus clinic, and that she knew of the nature of the complaint.
But Simon insisted that she was aware only that a complaint had been filed against a sports doctor. She said she didn’t learn anything specific about Nassar until 2016.
Maurer reviewed transcripts from the seven-day hearing in District Court and considered arguments from Simon’s defense team as well as prosecutors from the attorney general’s office.
“The testimony and documentary evidence show … that no one remembers communicating with Dr. Simon about Dr. Nassar in 2014,” the judge said.
“Not one person was able to testify that in 2014 they communicated with Dr. Simon or remembered having knowledge of someone else communicating with Dr. Simon about Dr. Nassar or the nature of the complaint against him,” Maurer said.
Investigators, he noted, “interviewed hundreds of people and searched through thousands of pages of documents.”
In his 24-page opinion, the judge criticized the veteran detectives who interviewed Simon, saying they repeatedly missed opportunities to clarify questions during their meeting, which occurred three months after she had abruptly resigned as Michigan State’s president.
The detectives testified that they informed Simon about their criminal investigation, although Maurer found “there was no evidence” of that on a recording of the interview.
The attorney general’s office said it would take Maurer’s decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals and try to get the charges reinstated. Simon’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they were extremely pleased with the result.
The case was “built on nothing more than speculation and conjecture. … We are hopeful that today’s dismissal will restore focus and resources onto meaningful and ongoing support of his survivors and the other victims of sexual assault,” attorney Lee Silver said.
Simon quit as president in January 2018, hours after Nassar was sentenced to prison following days of wrenching testimony from his victims.
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, said she was disappointed that Simon’s charges were dismissed.
“We already knew that a lot of the missteps were not going to be prosecuted and that is why we needed answers from a third party,” she said, referring to her call for an independent probe at Michigan State.
Besides working at Michigan State, Nassar was team doctor at USA Gymnastics, based in Indianapolis, which trains Olympians. Those elite athletes, too, said they were his victims.
The scandal was a disaster for Michigan State. It agreed to pay $500 million to victims. Separately, the U.S. Education Department ordered the school to make sweeping changes and pay a $4.5 million penalty.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last fall said Nassar’s actions were “disgusting and unimaginable” and that the university’s response fit the same description.
In February, former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was convicted of lying to police. She had denied that two teens told her about Nassar’s abuse in 1997. She hasn’t been sentenced.
Nassar’s former boss, William Strampel, served time in jail for neglecting to ensure that Nassar followed certain rules during examinations of females after a complaint was filed against him. Strampel also was convicted of using his job as a medical school dean to sexually harass female students.