MASON, Mich. (WWJ/AP) – A sports doctor who treated female gymnasts at Michigan State University and through USA Gymnastics faces a key hearing Friday to determine if he will go to trial on sexual assault charges.
The allegations in this case do not involve an athlete; Dr. Larry Nassar is accused of sexually assaulting a girl at his Lansing-area home between 1998 and 2005, from the age of 6 until the girl was 12.
The case is one of many legal challenges he faces since dozens of women and girls stepped forward to claim that he molested them during treatments as far back as the 1990s:
Who is Nassar?
Nassar, 53, received a medical degree from Michigan State in 1993 and returned to teach and become doctor for the women’s gymnastics team. More than 80 percent of his patients were gymnasts, dancers and cheerleaders, many from outside MSU.
He also was a doctor for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, until September 2015. The Indianapolis Star last September quoted former gymnasts who said Nassar molested them while they sought treatment for back pain.
Nassar hasn’t commented directly, but his lawyers have denied misconduct.
What are the charges?
Nassar faces charges in two cases so far, although they’re not related to his work with athletes. Besides the case involving alleged abuse of a girl at his home, Nassar is charged in federal court with possessing child pornography and trying to destroy possible evidence.
The FBI says at least 37,000 images and videos were discovered. He’s in jail without bond.
“Either you’ve got it or you don’t. It’s very difficult to fight and the penalties are severe,” former federal prosecutor John Smietanka said of child porn charges.
What’s Happening at Michigan State?
Nassar, who had a campus clinic, was fired in September. Women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages suddenly quit Wednesday, a day after she was suspended for defending Nassar during a team meeting months ago.
In lawsuits against the doctor, at least two women said Klages downplayed their complaints about him when they were part of a gymnastics youth group at MSU in the late 1990s. An attorney for the coach said Klages would never put athletes in “harm’s way.”
MSU said it had received only two formal complaints about Nassar, including one in 2014; no charges were filed then. A second complaint last summer led to a broader police investigation, which is ongoing. President Lou Anna Simon recently called Nassar’s behavior “criminal and repugnant.”
“If anybody thinks this stops at the gymnastics coach, they’re smoking some pretty good dope,” said John Manly, an attorney who is representing more than 40 women or girls who are suing Nassar or planning to join the litigation. “Sexual abuse of this magnitude doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
What’s the Status of Civil Lawsuits?
Nassar is facing civil lawsuits from more than two dozen former athletes who say they were assaulted during treatments. He has denied the allegations.
More females who say they’re victims lately have been added to lawsuits each week. The largest case is in federal court in western Michigan, and it names Nassar, MSU and USA Gymnastics as defendants.
USA Gymnastics won’t comment on specific allegations but says it’s “appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.” The lawsuits accuse MSU of failing to do more to prevent assaults.
The school also won’t address specific allegations. There is an ongoing internal review of all aspects of Nassar’s work.
One of the alleged victims, Rachael Denhollander, 32, of Louisville, Kentucky, said she was assaulted by Nassar while seeing him for wrist and back injuries in 2000. Denhollander says she didn’t file a complaint at the time because she believed her “voice would not be heard” because of Nassar’s reputation.
The abuse alleged by the women and girls occurred over 20 years. They ranged in age from 9 to 29 at the time.
Many of the women have the same allegations: During the course of Nassar’s treatments, the doctor allegedly inserted “his bare, ungloved and unlubricated hand” into the victim’s vagina, according to the complaint. When one woman reported Nassar’s disturbing “treatments” to the MSU training staff, she was allegedly told that Nassar was a world-renowned doctor and that his “inter‐vaginal adjustments” were legitimate medical treatments.
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