MSU plans to give Nassar investigation documents to Nessel later this month ⋆

Later this month, Michigan State University will begin transferring long-withheld documents the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has requested for years in its investigation into former MSU and Olympic doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse.

MSU interim President Teresa Woodruff announced Friday at MSU’s Board of Trustees meeting that late February will mark the start date of the documents’ release.

“Let us extend our unwavering compassion to survivors, ensuring they feel deeply supported through this process,” Woodruff said.

Michigan State University to release thousands of Nassar documents, Nessel reopens investigation

The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into MSU six years ago, looking into allegations from survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse while he was a doctor at the university. Some women came forward saying there were those at the university that knew about the abuse, with the earliest reports dating back to the 1990’s.

Nassar, who was also a doctor for USA Gymnastics, was sentenced in three courts in 2017 and 2018 to essentially three life sentences on child pornography charges, as well as several charges of criminal sexual conduct. 

The MSU investigation resulted in criminal prosecutions for three MSU employees: former University President Lou Anna K. Simon, former University Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages and former Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel. Simon’s charges were dismissed, Klages’ guilty conviction was overturned and Strampel was sentenced to jail time for misconduct in office and neglect of duty.

But the investigation came to a halt in 2021 when after repeated requests, MSU held fast to claiming attorney-client privilege on thousands of documents requested for the AG investigation.

Attorney General Dana Nessel closed the investigation into MSU in 2021, saying without the documents, there wasn’t an avenue to proceed. 

To the shock of many survivors of Nassar’s abuse and their loved ones, the MSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously in December 2023 to release the documents.

Withholding the documents has been “an Achilles’ heel” for the university and stood in the way of transparency, board Chair Rema Vassar said Friday. 

“I think what you have seen in the last two years is a move towards transparency and accountability for this board. I know it’s not as fast as I would like it to be, but there have been aggressive actions taken by this board to show that we are transparent, that we are elected by the people and are accountable to the people,” Vassar said.

It is the university’s belief that all the documents could be shared with the attorney general’s office by mid to late March, Vassar said.

Michigan State University Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar speaks to media after an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Michigan State University Interim President Teresa Woodruff (middle) speaks at an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Valerie von Frank, a parent of a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse approaches the podium to speak at a Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Michigan State University Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar speaks to students after an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

 

MSU was working on making redactions in the documents to comply with privacy laws, MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant told the Advance last week. Those laws include such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect students’ education records and to keep health information private.

But both survivors of Nassar’s abuse and Nessel have told the Advance that the idea of redactions gives them pause.

“We want to see what’s in those documents,” Nessel told the Advance after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address in January, adding that it’s very unusual for her office to receive documents that are redacted prior to investigators reviewing them. 

And survivors are concerned about the possibility of completely blacked out pages.

“MSU doesn’t have a great history of transparency,” Melissa Hudecz, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse told the Advance last week on the eve of the anniversary of the Jan. 24 Nassar sentencing.

Neither the survivors nor the attorney general know exactly what’s in the documents or whether they hold information that could lead to more criminal charges or not. But Hudecz has confidence something is in them, or the board would have released them a long time ago.

“It’s not going to have nothing,” Hudecz said. “If it has nothing, it’s going to be because [they’re] redacted.”

In terms of Nessel’s plans for the documents, she told the Advance last week that there’s a lot on the table and her office needs to review the documents before having an idea of next steps.

Nessel’s spokesperson Danny Wimmer told the Advance Friday that it’s too soon in the process to discuss timelines for information to be shared with the public, but the office is eager to review them.

“The results of that investigation, and eventually suitable material provided to our investigators, will likely be made public, though an investigation of this scope and reviewing this many thousands of documents will take a considerable amount of time,” Wimmer said. “Until our investigators and prosecutors are able to review the material from Michigan State University it will be impossible to determine what material would potentially be part of an ongoing investigation or prosecution, or when this material or which pieces of it would be suitable for public release.”

Regardless, the multi-year effort to get the documents has been a top priority in hopes that families can gain closure and know whether university officials knew about the nearly three decades of abuse Nassar perpetrated, Valerie von Frank, a parent of a Nassar survivor, told the Advance on Friday.

Von Frank helped lead the charge on a lawsuit last summer, asserting the trustees violated the Open Meetings Act by meeting in secret to block a public vote on whether or not to release the documents. Now that the board has held that public vote, the lawsuit was dropped earlier this week.

Elizabeth Maurer, alongside other survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse spoke about legal action against Michigan State University on July 27, 2023 in front of one of MSU’s entrance signs.

“The purpose of the lawsuit was to have an open vote on releasing the documents. … They at least accomplished that portion,” von Frank said. “The next portion is making sure that the documents are released in complete form. …You can redact [for] HIPAA and FERPA; don’t redact anything else.”

Woodruff said at the Board of Trustees meeting Friday that the university is thinking about the impact on survivors once the documents are released, adding the university plans on orchestrating support with a university workgroup to support survivors in a “trauma-informed” manner.

But that sentiment isn’t backed by anything, Von Frank, who heads Parents of Sister Survivors Engage (POSSE), a group of Nassar survivors and their families, told the trustees Friday.

At the December meeting, where the trustees voted to release the documents, survivors and their families didn’t get any notice, von Frank told the Advance. The group also wasn’t given notice that a timeline for release of the documents would be released today.

“You know how to reach us. You know how to get that word out,” von Frank told the trustees Friday. “Why can’t you include sister survivors?”

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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F02%2F02%2Fmsu-plans-to-give-nassar-investigation-documents-to-nessel-later-this-month%2F

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