EAST LANSING (AP) — Michigan State University is asking a judge to dismiss a second wave of lawsuits related to former sports doctor Larry Nassar, even as the school says it’s working to reach a deal with additional assault victims.
MSU defended itself in a court filing Monday, declaring it’s immune from liability for Nassar’s crimes.
Nassar has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting athletes, mostly female gymnasts, at MSU and a Lansing-area gymnastics club. Former Olympians said he also molested them in Texas and overseas while he worked for USA Gymnastics.
“Although Nassar’s actions were repugnant and merit the heavy criminal penalties imposed upon him, the law does not support plaintiffs’ attempts to hold the MSU defendants liable for his wrongs,” lawyers for the school said, citing immunity and a statute of limitations, among other defenses.
MSU last year agreed to a $500 million deal with Nassar’s accusers. Most of the money, $425 million, was for 333 people, mostly women and girls, who had already sued. MSU so far has settled with 72 people in the second wave of litigation but dozens remain.
Spokeswoman Emily Guerrant told the Detroit Free Press that the school was under a court order to reply to the lawsuits. But she also said there were “active settlement negotiations.”
But an attorney for the victims, Donna MacKenzie, said the court filing was unfortunate.
“MSU should be ashamed by the way it continues to represent to the public that it cares about settlement and healing, while at the same time paying their lawyers thousands of dollars to aggressively defend and file motions to dismiss the survivors’ claims in court,” MacKenzie said.
FLINT (AP) — A jury acquitted former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves on Tuesday of allegations he sexually assaulted a woman in a motel room four years ago.
The verdict announced in a Genesee County courtroom in Cleaves’ hometown of Flint came after a nearly-two week trial that included the testimony of the Mount Morris woman, who told jurors that she had wanted to leave the motel room but Cleaves continued to force himself on her.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for a little more than two hours before delivering its verdict. Cleaves sobbed after the last of four not-guilty verdicts was read.
“Thank you for giving me my life back,” Cleaves said.
Juror Michael Lambert said the verdict came quickly after he and other jurors concluded Cleaves’ accuser wasn’t believable.
Evidence against Cleaves, 41, included a video that prosecutors contended showed the woman pulling away from Cleaves. Prosecutors argued she tried twice to escape from the motel room.
Cleaves is a revered figure in Michigan, an integral part of a Michigan State team that won the national championship in 2000 before his six-year NBA career.
And on Tuesday, sitting in a courtroom was another reminder of that team: Spartans head coach Tom Izzo.
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — Michigan State University has agreed to better protect patients from sexual assaults, including following a chaperone requirement for sensitive medical exams, to resolve a federal civil-rights investigation into Larry Nassar’s abuse of young gymnasts and other athletes under the guise of medical treatment.
The three-year agreement announced Monday is the first one struck under a section of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination in certain health care programs or activities, said Roger Severino, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. The deal covers not only students under Title IX but also patients who are not students.
The university and two associated entities — MSU HealthTeam and MSU Health Care Inc. — will require that a second health team member be present at sensitive medical exams. The school previously instituted a chaperone requirement in 2017 in the wake of the scandal involving its former sports doctor, Nassar, and his abuse of hundreds of girls and women, but Severino said it now must comply or face consequences.
“It’s one thing for an institution that has failed repeatedly to police itself to say that they’re going to do better this time compared to the federal government (which has) the ability to strip federal funds in case of repeated noncompliance,” Severino said.
He added that federal officials will be monitoring closely, which is a key difference. He said the Office for Civil Rights opened the probe on its own about eight months ago and not in response to a complaint.
When sensitive exams are conducted, patients will be given an appropriate gown, privacy to dress and undress, and sensitive draping to maximize their privacy. The university and the health entities also will revise their nondiscrimination notices and sexual misconduct policies, improve their processes for investigating and resolving complaints, conduct all-staff training and report twice a year to the Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights.
University President Samuel Stanley Jr. said the revisions recommended by federal officials “further enhance the many protection and policy improvements MSU has made since Nassar’s arrest.” He said those include the school’s own version of a chaperone policy as well as a protocol to review all reported allegations of inappropriate interactions between practitioners and patients. The university also will add investigators to handle grievances and complaints, he said.
“We must always look for ways to do more for those who trust the university with their health and safety,” Stanley said in a statement.
Separate investigations of Michigan State’s handling of complaints against Nassar, which the U.S. Department of Education is leading, are expected to end “in the near future,” said spokeswoman Liz Hill.
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The mix of rage, disappointment and grief are still there. Just under the surface.
And while Simone Biles tries to stay focused on the healing process more than 18 months after the Olympic gymnastics champion revealed she was among the hundreds of athletes abused by disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar, there are times when the massive systemic breakdown that allowed Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked for years becomes too much.
“It hits you like a train wreck,” Biles said Wednesday as she prepared for the U.S. championships.
One that leaves the greatest gymnast of her generation and the face of the U.S. Olympic movement ahead of the 2020 Games in a difficult spot.
She still loves competing, pushing herself and the boundaries of her sport in the process.
And yet the 22-year-old still finds herself working under the banner of USA Gymnastics and by extension the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Both organizations were called out by Congress along with the FBI last week in a scathing report that detailed a series of catastrophic missteps that allowed Nassar — a longtime trainer with USA Gymnastics as well as Michigan State University — to continue to abuse patients even after athletes started questioning his methods in the summer of 2015.
While Nassar is now behind bars for the rest of his life and USA Gymnastics has undergone a massive overhaul in leadership since the 2016 Olympics as it fights to retain its status as the sport’s national governing body, the scars remain fresh for Biles, though she knows that doesn’t make her different from the other women who were abused by Nassar under the guise of treatment.
“I don’t mean to cry,” the typically poised Biles said through tears two days before attempting to win her sixth national title. “But it’s hard coming here for an organization having had them failed us so many times. And we had one goal and we’ve done everything that they’ve asked us for, even when we didn’t want to and they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us.”
Biles is in therapy to help deal with the emotional fallout, well aware that progress will be slow and that a full recovery might not be possible.
“Everyone’s healing process is different and I think that’s the hardest part,” she said. “Because I feel like maybe I should be healed or this or that. But I feel like it will be an open wound for a really long time and it might not ever get closed or healed.”
So Biles is doing what she can, trying to find a balance between her pursuit to become the first woman in more than 50 years to repeat as Olympic champion while using her status as the face of her sport to effect change.
“When we tweet, it obviously goes a long way,” she said. “We’re blessed to be given a platform so that people will hear and listen. But you know, it’s not easy coming back to the sport. Coming back to the organization that has failed you. But you know, at this point, I just try to think, ‘I’m here as a professional athlete with my club team and stuff like that.’ Because it’s not easy being out here. I feel every day is a reminder of what I went through and what I’ve been through and what I’m going through and how I’ve come out of it.”
EAST LANSING (AP) — Michigan State University says the school’s Sparty mascot will no longer participate in most parades due to concerns about heat stroke or other health issues for those wearing the costume.
School spokeswoman Emily Guerrant says in an email the MSU Alumni Office made the decision “due to health concerns for Sparty and his team.”
Guerrant tells the Lansing State Journal the policy is “still in development” and is expected to be re-evaluated later this year. She says there have been no near-death experiences for students who have worn the Sparty suit at parades, but there were concerns some “pushed themselves too hard” in hot weather.
The newspaper says Sparty still is expected to participate in MSU’s annual fall Homecoming Parade in East Lansing unless the weather conditions pose health risks.
AP Sports Writer
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo insisted Thursday he was never part of an effort to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct within the school’s athletic department.
The Hall of Famer said the idea that he would be involved sickens him.
Izzo said the low point in his life was an ESPN report last winter saying Michigan State had a history of covering up incidents of sexual assault in the football and men’s basketball programs. It stated that former Spartans basketball player Travis Walton was named in a sexual assault report and had assault and battery charges dismissed in 2010. At the time, Walton was a graduate assistant.
Izzo said he felt the report lumped him and football coach Mark Dantonio in with Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State and Team USA sports doctor imprisoned for child pornography crimes and molesting female athletes.
“That’ll go down for the rest of my life as the lowest part of my life, being on there with a pedophile like I was on there with,” Izzo said.
As for a potential cover-up? Izzo was adamant: There was none.
“The thought of that makes me sick,” he said. “It’s never been hidden. It never was. That was the big complaint on me and Dantonio and (retired athletic director Mark Hollis). And it never was hidden and it never will be hidden.”
The NCAA cleared Michigan State of any rules infractions in the Nassar scandal. The basketball and football programs were also cleared of any potential violations related to how sexual assault allegations against their players were handled.
Izzo acknowledged he might have handled things a little differently in hindsight during a lengthy session with reporters at the Big Ten’s annual basketball media day. But he also insisted policies were followed to the “Nth degree.”
“I want to make this the greatest place,” Izzo said. “I want to make this better. … I’m hoping the day comes when a lot of the survivors that were Michigan State girls come back. That’s what I’d like to see. … It’s never gonna be OK with me, what happened.”
Izzo drew sharp criticism in January when he defended then-school President Lou Anna Simon, who resigned shortly afterward.
EAST LANSING (AP) — The NCAA cleared Michigan State University of any rules infractions in the Larry Nassar sexual-assault scandal, the school announced Thursday.
The school released a letter from Jonathan Duncan, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement, that addressed the Nassar case, as well as an investigation into how the university has handled allegations involving football and men’s basketball players.
“This review has not substantiated violations of NCAA legislation,” Duncan wrote in his letter, which was dated Wednesday and addressed to Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman. “Based on available information, it does not appear there is need for further inquiry.”
Nassar, 55, pleaded guilty to assaulting girls and women while working as a campus sports doctor for MSU athletes and gymnasts in the region. Victims included U.S. Olympians who trained at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics. He has been sentenced to decades in prison in three cases involving assault and child pornography.
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — A former head coach of Michigan State’s gymnastics team was charged Thursday with lying to an investigator when she denied that witnesses told her years ago about being sexually assaulted by ex-sports doctor Larry Nassar.
A charging document does not specify how many witnesses allegedly reported Nassar to Kathie Ann Klages, or when they did so. But former gymnast Larissa Boyce has said she told Klages of Nassar’s abuse in 1997, when Boyce was 16 — 19 years before he was first criminally charged with sexual abuse.
Klages, who resigned in 2017 after she was suspended for defending the now-imprisoned Nassar, is now the third person other than Nassar to face criminal charges related to his serial molestation of young female athletes under the guise of treatment. Numerous other people have lost their jobs or been sued.
If convicted of lying to a peace officer, the 63-year-old Klages could face up to four years in prison.
Boyce, who declined comment Thursday, had been training with the Spartan youth gymnastics team in 1997. She has said Klages dissuaded her from taking the issue further, even after another teen gymnast relayed similar allegations.
The warrant released Thursday alleges that in June, after being informed by special agent David Dwyre that he was conducting a criminal investigation, Klages knowingly and willfully made false and misleading statements to him. She faces two counts of lying to a peace officer, one a felony and the other a high court misdemeanor.
It was unclear whether Klages had a criminal defense attorney.
EAST LANSING (AP) — Michigan State University’s alumni magazine opted for a positive message after the original issue addressing the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal was scrapped by Interim President John Engler.
The issue is the first since the former sports doctor was sentenced to decades in prison for abusing girls and women, including Michigan State athletes.
The Spartan Magazine’s original front page was slated to be a black-and-white photo of a woman with teal lipstick. The color represents support for sexual assault survivors, and the issue’s contents would have been essays uncovering how the university handled Nassar’s case and what it now means to be a Spartan.
The replacement front page includes only text that reads, “The university, which faced the most difficult challenge in its history, has emerged and is going to be stronger, safer and more competitive than ever.”
Nine short letters from alumni and university deans line the pages of the magazine, some critical of how Michigan State handled Nassar’s sexual assault allegations. But the centerpiece of the new issue is a four-page Q&A with Engler, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The rest of the 60-page magazine was filled with positive stories about events and programs taking place on campus.
Several alumni criticized the updated issue, saying they want the magazine to reflect ongoing conversations, even if it’s not all positive.
“There’s no ducking what happened,” said alumnus Carissa Michaels, 46. “They should have the story with (Engler). It’s important to hear from him, but it also would be good to have other views in there.”
The magazine missed an opportunity to help alumni in their conversations about the Nassar scandal, said alumnus Mike Johnson.
“Nobody is being honest about the good and bad,” Johnson said. “Do that — it will help.”
University spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said the magazine is trying to strike the right balance. The magazine’s three-month production process made it difficult for the editorial team to stay ahead of the news cycle, she said.
“Alumni consistently communicate to the magazine team that they want to know what is happening on campus,” she said. “So striking a balance between addressing the problems of the past but also showing the positive impact Spartans are having across a variety of fields was the desired outcome.”
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Senators questioned the sincerity of reforms at the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University in the wake of sex-abuse scandals — using legal papers, emails and accounts of conversations to portray organizations that still don’t fully grasp the pain they inflicted.
At a hearing Tuesday in Washington, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut criticized leaders of the USOC and USA Gymnastics for court filings this month that seek to absolve the federations of legal responsibility for Larry Nassar’s sex-abuse crimes.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and others blistered Michigan State’s interim president, John Engler, for insensitive emails and comments he made during negotiations that produced a $500 million settlement with sex-abuse victims who attended the school.
“I think you have some repair work to do here today, to put it mildly,” Hassan said, prompting applause from the 80 or so victims who attended the hearing.
Nassar, a longtime sports doctor at Michigan State who also volunteered as the team physician for USA Gymnastics, is serving decades in prison for child pornography and other crimes after hundreds of women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical care.
Last Friday, the USOC filed a motion to be removed as a defendant in lawsuits filed by gold-medal gymnasts Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney, arguing that it had no legal responsibility for Nassar’s actions.
“There are all kinds of defenses the parties can make, but there’s also a moral responsibility here,” Blumenthal said. “If you’re serious and sincere, you will withdraw (the court filings). You need to be part of the legal solution, not just come here and apologize.”
USA Gymnastics filed papers in a different lawsuit that also deny legal liability for Nassar’s actions, in part because he wasn’t on the payroll. Blumenthal seized on this wording in the USAG court filing: “USAG denies that Nassar was an employee or agent of USAG.”
When he pressed CEO Kerry Perry on that point, she said she was unaware of the court filing but that, indeed, “Larry Nassar was absolutely an agent of USA Gymnastics.”
Also weighing in was Han Xiao, a table tennis player who serves as the USOC’s athletes’ representative. He called the sex-abuse scandal part of a larger problem in Olympic sports, in which the USOC and the sports organizations hold an inordinate amount of power over the athletes.