I-Team Report: Trust betrayed by gymnastics coach accused of sex - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: Trust betrayed by gymnastics coach accused of sexual assault

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Larry Nassar (Source: CNN) Larry Nassar (Source: CNN)

Tiffany Lopez was a southern California softball star. In the late 90s, she received a scholarship to play at Michigan State University.

During her time at MSU she was injured and suffered chronic back pain. The team physician who treated her was Dr. Larry Nassar, who treated a wide range of elite athletes at the school.

 She was 18.

“He made you feel comfortable. He spoke about his family, his kids, his wife and his life,” Lopez said.

Nassar was not just a local figure. He was the best for treating U.S. Olympic gymnasts from around the nation. Lopez said she trusted him – a trust that she and others allege he violated.

She was one of the first to come forward.

“I became uncomfortable after three visits with Nassar,” Lopez said.

Lopez said Nassar sexually abused her more than 10 times, using an ungloved hand and penetrating her genitals. She’s now suing him and MSU after claiming her cries for help were unanswered by other trainers on the university staff.

"I told her my story and she said, ‘You understand he’s a world renown doctor? He treats elite athletes just like yourself. You are getting the best treatment possible, he does this to other athletes. You either suck it up or you don’t play,’” Lopez claimed.

Lopez returned to her home in California. Nassar continued his practice.

In September of 2015, with very little public notice, Nassar left his role at USA Gymnastics. Last fall, Nassar was fired from MSU.

This all unfolded as an Indianapolis star investigation revealed USA Gymnastics repeatedly failed to forward the allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement.

Now, other alleged victims of Nassar have broken their silence. In total, MSU Police have received 60 separate complaints.

“At age 15, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by him under the guise of medical treatment and medical examination,” said Rachael Denhollander, another victim.

Denhollander was a club-level gymnast. She claimed she was abused by Nassar when she saw him for back pain.

Court documents obtained by TV5 paint a chilling tale.

On five different visits, she said Nassar massaged her breasts and penetrated her. She said her mother was even in the room with her, but Nassar blocked her vision.

The TV5 I-Team studied the 107-page civil complaint in federal court. All the victims had similar stories.

Nassar “digitally penetrated their vagina without prior notice and without gloves or lubricant, and in some cases, used his hand to stimulate their vagina before penetration,” according to the documents.

“The impacts of assault are devastating. It is not just a wound to my body, it’s a wound to my soul. And it will continue for the rest of my life,” Denhollander said.

Now, it’s more than just a civil case. In November, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Nassar criminally for sexually abusing a family friend.

It started when the young victim was only 6-years-old, according to Schuette.

Investigators also found nearly 40,000 sexually explicit images of children on disks and drives in a trash can outside of his home.

“He abused that authority. He abused that trust, is what we feel,” Stephen Drew said.

Drew is a Grand Rapids lawyer for several of the alleged victims. He’s working with a California lawyer representing victims who are fighting back.

“First, I’d like to apologize to all of the victims. Like I said, I felt like I could do more, but I did what I could,” Lopez said.

Now it is more than just Nassar fighting back. MSU, USA Olympics and Twistars – a Michigan gymnastics club where he treated young athletes – are also named as defendants.

They claim “the defendants knew or should have known that Nassar had engaged in unlawful sexually-related conduct” and their inaction allowed him to continue molesting girls.

For its part, the university said it investigated one complaint against Nassar in 2014, but it revealed no violation of school policy. He was allowed to go back to work and Drew said that’s when he allegedly abused even more young women.

“As early as 1999 and again in 2000. And again, obviously in 2014. He was allowed to go back to work after the 2014 investigation as indicated in the articles and the investigations previously done,” Drew said.

Karla Denise Thomas is a therapist who works with sexual abuse victims. She said the victims will live their life with this trauma, but coming forward is step one of recovery.

“There can be short term effects, there can be long term effects,” Thomas said. “I think support, ongoing communication is the key. Letting them understand that we understand this happened, we understand that we want justice to be served and I think that’s the main thing.”

Both Lopez and Denhollander said it wasn’t easy going public. They’re telling their stories to give other victims a voice.

“The reality of sexual abuse is this: a pedophile is only as prominent as the people around him allow him to be. I can do everything in my power to make sure Larry Nassar is prosecuted for his crimes and never has another opportunity to harm another child. But without the ability to speak to the institutional reform desperately needed, I can do nothing about the predator who rises to take his place,” Denhollander said. 

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon released the following statement:

Dear MSU community member,

You may have read media stories or comments related to former MSU doctor Larry Nassar, the sexual assault allegations against him, and his work at MSU and other organizations. You will undoubtedly see more. This situation is still unfolding as allegations continue to emerge regarding Nasser’s criminal and repugnant behavior. I want to recognize the courage it takes for individuals to come forward with details of personally traumatic events and assure you we are looking into every aspect of this situation with integrity and diligence.

After taking a report of alleged sexual assault against Nassar on Aug. 29, MSU Police Department detectives immediately began an investigation and notified our administration. Since then, many additional complaints have been reported.

Our top priority continues to be ensuring justice is served. The MSU Police Department is dedicating significant resources to this investigation and is coordinating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General. We are fully cooperating with every aspect of the ongoing criminal investigations and have urged all members of the MSU community to do so as well.

As part of this commitment, we have to be respectful of the investigative process, respectful of the judicial process, and respectful of the victims involved. Therefore, our ability to comment will often be limited regardless of the nature of public reports or whether they contain conflicting or confusing information.

While the investigations continue, one fact appears clear. Based on the dozens of criminal complaints made against Nassar to MSU Police and the criminal charges brought against him by the Michigan Attorney General and federal U.S. Attorney’s Office, Nassar abused the trust of his patients and his professional responsibility as a physician.

MSU has taken a proactive approach to responding to this situation. Since complaints were made against Nassar in Aug. 2016, MSU:

Fired Nassar on Sept. 20, 2016.

Immediately launched an internal review of Nassar’s former work at the university, from his clinical work to his work with MSU Athletics.

Conducted a policy and protocol review within the MSU HealthTeam, and we have begun the process of strengthening, reinforcing, and centralizing policies and protocols, where necessary, regarding the role of chaperones, informed consent, and other areas of operations.

The internal review I called for includes interviewing individuals and reviewing materials involving Nasser’s work at the university. We have an external law firm advising us in that effort. I have made clear to those conducting the review that we will promptly take appropriate action in response to what we learn during the review. This tireless effort will continue as long as necessary.

I believe these are the prudent steps we should take at this stage in light of the allegations made against Nassar, and they complement our already strong commitment to patient and student safety, including Title IX compliance. I have confidence in the robustness of the reviews we have underway and our unceasing commitment to evaluate how we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

Finally, there should be absolutely no ambiguity that we have always expected and continue to expect every university employee to cooperate fully with any law enforcement investigation, as well as any internal reviews. Any interference with an investigation or review will not be tolerated.

I want to reinforce that sexual misconduct in any form is abhorrent, and no member of our community should be threatened by sexual violence. Any member of the MSU community, past or present, or any member of the public who may have information relevant to this ongoing investigation is encouraged to call MSUPD’s toll-free tip line at: 844-99-MSUPD.

The school released the following statement:

“While we cannot comment specifically on pending or ongoing litigation or the criminal investigation, we are deeply disturbed by the state and federal criminal charges against Larry Nassar, and our hearts go out to those directly affected.

The criminal investigation into Larry Nassar is a top priority for MSU Police. Detectives are vigorously reviewing all complaints and working through them with the state Attorney General’s office and federal U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Additionally, the university began an internal review in September, looking at all aspects of operations involving Nassar’s work at the university. It will continue as new information and/or allegations are brought forward. An external law firm is advising MSU on the review, which will result in disciplinary action if appropriate. Also, MSU initiated a separate review looking closely at our clinic policies and operations to determine if there are steps we should take to make improvements.

To date, MSU’s review has discovered no evidence that any individuals came forward to MSU with complaints about Nassar before Aug. 29, 2016, other than the 2014 complaint that was investigated by MSU Police and our Title IX office.”

Below is the First Amended Complaint. Mobile users click here.


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