Larry Nassar addresses the court and his accusers before being sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.
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LANSING – Both Rachael Denhollander and Amanda Thomashow told police Larry Nassar sexually assaulted them, but the ensuing investigations ended with drastically different results.
Denhollander’s report in 2016 and the media attention that followed prompted a wave of new reports against Nassar, criminal convictions in state and federal court and a seven-day sentencing hearing that included 156 victim-impact statements.
Thomashow’s report, filed nearly two and a half years prior, ended without criminal charges and the opinion from prosecutors that what Nassar had done was medical.
Nassar was a highly regarded MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor; both women say they were abused in his university office.
Police reports from Thomashow’s investigation, which the State Journal obtained Thursday through a public records request, shed light on the defense Nassar was able to mount by explaining his medical treatment and providing police with materials he said supported his position.
When Denhollander came forward to report Nassar, she brought “an entire file of evidence” with her, including medical journal articles undercutting the validity of what Nassar had claimed was medical technique, she said in her victim-impact statement during his sentencing hearing.
She said she knew she needed to be prepared because she believed others had spoken up about Nassar and had their concerns dismissed.
“He had developed a built-in defense,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said on Wednesday before Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on seven sexual assault charges, including one related to Denhollander.
“No coach should be in the shower with a boy. No priest has any excuse for any type of sexual touching. But Nassar perfected a built-in excuse in defense. He was a doctor, and a good one, so the world thought.”
Thomashow was among the more than 100 women and girls who gave victim-impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing. She spoke on the second day.
“Larry, the thing that you didn’t realize while you were sexually assaulting me and all of these young girls,” she said,” … is that you were also building an army of survivors.”
A denied warrant request
In April 2014, Thomashow, then a recent MSU graduate, told the university and its police department that Nassar sexually assaulted her during a medical appointment.
During that appointment, Nassar cupped her buttocks and then, about an hour into the session, he sent the only other person present, a female resident, out of the examination room, she told them. Then he massaged her breast and vaginal area.
She told him to stop, but he didn’t. He only stopped when she physically removed his hands from her. Thomashow’s report didn’t include vaginal penetration, but Denhollander’s did, a key detail that might also have played a role in how the two complaints were investigated and reviewed for charges.
Thomashow reported Nassar to MSU’s Title IX office and the university police department about two weeks after the appointment, records show.
Nassar met with police on May 29, 2014, about two months after the appointment. He already had been removed from clinical duties, a result of the Title IX investigation stemming from Thomashow’s report.
“Nassar stated he is not saying he did not touch (Thomashow),” Capt. Valerie O’Brien, who at the time was a detective, wrote in the report. “Nassar stated he purposely touched her there. Nassar stated he has been doing this since 1997. ‘What now, what happened?'”
Two women have said that in 1997 they raised concerns about Nassar to MSU women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, who cautioned them from reporting Nassar; Klages then told Nassar the women raised concerns.
After the 2014 interview with police, Nassar began sending O’Brien emails, including later that day, with lectures, videos and references to other doctors who performed similar procedures, all meant to show that what he did was medical.
On May 30, the day after the interview with police, Nassar emailed O’Brien and said he thought it would be beneficial for Thomashow to see a hand placement video he had sent police, saying he thought the problem was that he didn’t explain himself well enough.
On May 31, Nassar emailed again, saying he’d be willing to demonstrate the procedure on a police officer, if one would volunteer to stand in as a patient.
He sent police four presentations, a research article and 10 videos of him performing what he said was a legitimate medical procedure, records show. He also spoke with police and explained that what he was doing was medical.
On July 1, 2015, university police submitted a warrant request for a fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, a misdemeanor. On Dec. 15, 2015, prosecutors denied the charges and said what Nassar did appeared to be “a very innovative and helpful manipulation,” emails related to the denial of charges show.
O’Brien later emailed Assistant Prosecutor Steve Kwasnik, who denied the warrant, and said she agreed with the decision, that it appeared Nassar and Thomashow told similar versions of the events, and that Nassar appeared to be telling the truth during his interview.
Prosecutors denied charges three times, MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap said, with the first two being verbal and the final in an email.
Jim Graves, Thomashow’s attorney, told the State Journal that the police reports show “there was another opportunity to stop the abuse and tragically it didn’t happen.”
A charged case
By the time prosecutors denied the warrant, Nassar had been back seeing patients for 16 months. The Title IX investigation from Thomashow’s report, which started in April 2014, ended three months later, and the university let Nassar resume seeing patients.
That investigation has been widely criticized.
It concluded that Nassar had not violated university policy, based in part on the opinions of four medical experts who had close ties to Nassar and worked for the university. Nassar himself had recommended one of them to the investigator for an interview.
The final Title IX report, written by investigator Kristine Moore, exists in at least two different versions. One version was given to Thomashow. Another went to Nassar and his boss, William Strampel, and included “substantive text in the conclusion section” that Thomashow’s report did not have, according to emails the State Journal previously obtained. It’s unclear what the additional text includes as the university has not released it.
It appears that the internal experts used in the Title IX report impacted the criminal investigation.
At one point, prosecutors asked police to interview a “non-MSU expert in the field,” records show. But that wasn’t done, Dunlap told the State Journal, because when prosecutors found out the Title IX investigation had not found a violation of policy, they told O’Brien that they didn’t plan to charge Nassar.
Eight months after Ingham County prosecutors denied the warrant request for the third time, Denhollander contacted the MSU police department.
“I brought an entire file of evidence with me,” she said on Wednesday, the final day of Nassar’s sentencing. “I made a police report and a Title IX report. And I brought with me to those reports, my medical records showing that Larry had never charted penetrative techniques. I brought medical records from a nurse practitioner documenting my graphic disclosure of abuse way back in 2004.
“I had my journals showing the mental anguish I had been in since the assault, a catalog of national and international medical journal articles showing what real pelvic floor treatment looks like. I brought a letter from a neighboring district attorney vouching for my character and truthfulness and urging detectives to take my case seriously.”
Denhollander has said she was so prepared because she suspected that other women and girls had spoken up over the years and been silenced. She was right, because 10 years before Thomashow reported to MSU police in 2014, a girl and her parents told the Meridian Township Police Department that Nassar sexually assaulted her during a medical appointment. Nassar met with police and the girl’s parents and them what he did was medical.
That investigation never made it to prosecutors.
Nassar was charged with state sexual assault charges in November 2016, two months after Denhollander reported to police. Those charges didn’t involve a patient, but in February 2017, he was charged with abusing several former patients, including Denhollander.
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