EAST LANSING (AP/WOOD) — A former Kent County prosecutor on Friday accused Michigan State University of stonewalling his investigation into the school’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal involving disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar and called for “top-down cultural change” at the school.
“Their biggest concern was the reputation of the university,” Forsyth said at a news conference in Lansing that was livestreamed.
Bill Forsyth released a report that accuses the school of fighting the release of certain relevant documents and releasing others that were heavily redacted or irrelevant.
“MSU drowned our investigators in irrelevant documents… the University’s Bed Bug Management-Infection Control policy, various restaurant coupons, and the seemingly endless (and duplicative) supply of emails from news-clipping services containing publicly available articles, offered absolutely no assistance in determining who at the University knew as Nassar’s abuse and when they knew it,” the report stated.
It says such actions hampered the investigation.
“For as long as MSU frustrates the search for the truth, we will never be fully confident that we have it,” Forsyth stated in the report.
Forsyth also said the university withheld or redacted thousands of documents, claiming attorney-client privilege.
“Just come out with what happened here,” he said. “I believe they could disclose some of this without violating attorney-client privilege.”
Investigators said they did determine 11 MSU employees failed to report the former sports doctor’s sexual abuse.
“Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation,” the report said.
Hundreds of women and girls, most of them gymnasts, accused Nassar of molesting them under the guise that it was treatment during his time working for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, which trained Olympians.
“He denied any type of criminality,” said the investigator who interviewed Nassar.
Forsyth and his team of prosecutors and investigators have brought criminal charges against five people, including former Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon. She was charged last month with lying to police during an investigation. One of her attorneys has said the charges are baseless.
Another employee named by Forsyth was Kristine Moore, who conducted the 2014 Title IX investigation that failed to stop Nassar and current assistant general counsel for MSU.
“We believe she just simply made a mistake,” Forsyth said. “She’s not a trained investigator, but I think common sense would tell you if you’re going to look at someone like Nassar and a complaint of what he was doing professionally, I wouldn’t consult with three of his colleagues.”
Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said in a statement the school is “extraordinarily sorry” that Nassar “hurt so many people” and that it is working to change its culture. She also noted that Forsyth’s report doesn’t level any new criminal allegations.
According to the report, a major piece of the investigation involved interviewing survivors. Of the 280 interviewed, 13 said they reported the abuse to an identified employee at or around the time it happened, it says.
Michigan State softball, volleyball, and track and field athletes have said they told an assistant coach and trainers about Nassar’s inappropriate behavior. The school in May reached a $500 million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar.
However, investigators said they found “no credible evidence” to support claims from former MSU field hockey player Erika Davis, who said in 1992 Nassar drugged her, recorded as he raped her and former MSU trustee George Perles confiscated the tape and forced the coach Davis told to resign.
“In fact, we found substantial evidence contradicting her claims concerning the supposed cover-up,” the report states.
The report says the field hockey coach never referred any of her athletes to Nassar and didn’t know him. She also said the only interactions she ever had with Perles was asking about practice fields.
Forsyth was appointed by Michigan state Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the school’s handling of Nassar. The investigation is ongoing, though Forsyth said he is stepping down at the end of this month when his contract ends.
“The investigation is not over. But I will tell you my role is over,” Forsyth said.
Schuette unsuccessfully ran for governor last month and is leaving his office to make way for incoming Democrat General Dana Nessel on Jan. 1. Nessel said in an emailed statement to the Lansing State Journal that she will carry on the investigation into what she called Michigan State’s “callous disregard” for victims.
Investigators have said Nassar’s crimes were mostly committed in Michigan at a campus clinic, area gyms and his Lansing-area home. Accusers also said he molested them at a gymnastics-training ranch in Texas, where Nassar also faces charges, and at national and international competitions.
The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley this month after an independent investigation concluded that neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Nassar allegations when they were first reported to them. The investigation report detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.
Forsyth said his investigation has been limited to investigating the university: “Who knew what, when they knew it and what, if anything, they did about it.”
His report says the university has taken steps to improve its sexual misconduct procedures, but the repeated failures were made by people, not policies.
“Until there is a top-down cultural change at MSU, survivors and the public would be rightly skeptical of the effectiveness of any set of written policies,” it concludes.
Nassar is in a federal prison in Florida after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. He won’t start serving his Michigan sentence until he’s done with his 60-year federal sentence.
— 24 Hour News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.