Special counsel Bill Forsyth, center, answers questions, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, during a press conference in Lansing, Mich., regarding the independent Special Counsel's investigation into Michigan State University's handling of the sexual abuse scandal involving disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar. Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi, left, and Special Agent David Dwyre, listen. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP)

Lawyer: Michigan State hampered probe of its Nassar dealings

December 21, 2018 - 4:40 pm

DETROIT (AP) — A special 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.

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. It says such actions hampered the investigation.

"Their biggest concern was the reputation of the university," Forsyth said at a news conference in Lansing that was livestreamed.

"Just come out with what happened here," he said. "I believe they could disclose some of this without violating attorney-client privilege."

Hundreds of women and girls, most of them gymnasts, accused Nassar of molesting them when they sought treatment during his time working for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, which trained Olympians. He received long prison terms after pleading guilty to child pornography possession and sexual abuse charges.

Forsyth and his team of prosecutors and investigators have brought criminal charges against three 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.

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.

Forsyth was appointed by Michigan 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.

Schuette unsuccessfully ran for governor last month and is leaving his office to make way for incoming Democratic Attorney 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's report offered some solace to George Perles, a former Michigan State trustee, football coach and athletic director. A lawsuit accuses Perles of covering up a rape allegation against Nassar when Nassar was a medical student in 1992. The report says investigators "found substantial evidence contradicting" those claims.

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.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Forsyth's team has brought charges against three people, not five people.

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Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub

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