The former dean of Michigan State University’s school of osteopathic medicine sexually assaulted and harassed four female students, and also mishandled a 2014 complaint that Larry Nassar sexually assaulted a patient, allowing further abuses by the disgraced former Olympic gymnastics physician to occur, according to criminal charges unsealed in Michigan Tuesday morning.
William Strampel, 70, who led Michigan State’s medical school from 2002 until late last year, was arrested Monday evening and taken to jail on four charges — one felony and three misdemeanors — stemming from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office’s ongoing investigation of the role others at the school may have played in crimes committed by Nassar, the former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics physician accused by more than 250 girls and women of sexual abuse.
Tuesday’s criminal charges invited more criticism from Nassar’s victims and their attorneys of Michigan State’s board of trustees, who resisted calls for nearly a year to commission an independent investigation of how the serial pedophile — accused of abusing children as far back as the mid-1990s — was able to escape detection for so long. Until relenting to demands for an inquiry in January, Michigan State board members publicly maintained university officials, including Strampel, didn’t deserve blame for Nassar’s crimes.
Two of the charges announced Tuesday — both misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of public duty — relate to Strampel’s handling of an April 2014 complaint by a 24-year-old woman that Nassar massaged her breast and vaginal area in a sexual manner at a campus clinic when he was supposed to be providing treatment for hip pain. Strampel initially prohibited Nassar from seeing patients while Michigan State’s Title IX office conducted an investigation, but in June 2014 he allowed to Nassar to resume working at the clinic.
In response, Strampel met with Nassar and the two agreed on a series of protocols to prevent a similar “misunderstanding.” Among them, Nassar agreed to explain procedures to patients before touching them in sensitive areas, to always have someone else in the room when performing these procedures, and to either wear gloves or perform treatment over clothes, to minimize skin-to-skin contact.
Nassar continued to treat girls and women at Michigan State’s clinic for another two years. In August 2016, when another woman came forward with similar complaints, Nassar acknowledged he had been ignoring the 2014 protocols, and was fired. Dozens of girls and women have asserted abuse that occurred after the 2014 investigation.
In March 2017, Strampel told a Michigan State police officer and an FBI agent that he never followed up to ensure Nassar was adhering to the 2014 protocols, nor did he tell anyone else in the office about them, because these were “common sense” guidelines and the Title IX investigation had ultimately cleared Nassar.
The two misdemeanors are punishable by up to two years in prison and $500 in fines, according to court documents.
Strampel’s other charges — felony misconduct of a public official, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines, and misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct, punishable by up to 2 years in prison and $500 in fines — stem from a pattern of discriminatory behavior described by four former female students.
Two allege he grabbed their buttocks at public events. One woman alleged Strampel told her “she was never going to make it in the profession if she did not dress sexier,” and that she needed “to be submissive and subordinate to men.” At one Michigan State event, the woman alleged, Strampel stared at her chest, and when she directed the dean to look at her face, he replied, “eye candy is eye candy.” Another woman alleged that Strampel once suggested “she become a centerfold model,” and told her about another female medical student who became a stripper to pay for medical school.
On Strampel’s work computer, the complaint alleges, investigators found about 50 photos of nude women and other pornography, many of them self-taken photos investigators believe he solicited from Michigan State students. Investigators also found pornographic videos, and a video of Nassar performing “treatment” on a young female patient. A forensic examination showed someone attempted to delete some of the photos, according to the complaint.
It’s not clear if the video of Nassar referenced in the complaint showed an obvious sex crime occurring, or if it showed Nassar performing accepted medical treatment. In the past, when complaints were raised about Nassar, he occasionally circulated videos or photographs of him performing valid medical treatment, arguing that his methods had simply been misunderstood. At a news conference Tuesday, special prosecutor Bill Forsyth, who is leading the investigation, declined to answer any questions, including those about the evidence collected from Strampel’s computer.
Tuesday’s allegations — particularly those involving destruction of evidence — raised questions about how Michigan State’s board of trustees and former president Lou Anna Simon responded to the Nassar case before a lengthy sentencing hearing in January galvanized national outrage.
The basic facts about Strampel’s handling of the 2014 complaint have been well-established — and publicly reported — since December 2016. Simon and the board, however, allowed Strampel to continue to lead the medical school until last December, when he was placed on medical leave, and resisted calls for an independent investigation until January, in the middle of an extraordinary seven-day sentencing hearing in which more than 160 girls, women and parents read emotional victim’s impact statements before a judge levied a 40- to 175-year sentence to Nassar.
Simon resigned as president the day Nassar’s sentencing hearing concluded. Last month, interim president John Engler announced he was moving to end Strampel’s tenure and have him fired because “allegations have arisen that question whether his personal conduct over a long period of time met MSU’s standards.”
In a statement, Jamie White, a Michigan attorney who represents 34 alleged victims of Nassar, wondered if Strampel or others at Michigan State destroyed relevant evidence during the 11 months it took for the school’s board of trustees to request an independent investigation.
“Although the allegations against Dr. Strampel are extremely troubling, I cannot say they are surprising,” said White. “We pleaded privately and publicly for an independent investigation in February of 2017. Those requests fell on deaf ears until the entire country was exposed to this disaster.”
Strampel’s attorney declined to comment.
One of the former Michigan State medical students described in the complaint — Nicole Eastman, a 2010 graduate of the school — said in a phone interview Tuesday that Strampel’s abusive behavior “was accepted and normalized.”
In 2007, Eastman said, she was working at a school flu shot clinic when Strampel began to tell her that he believed female bodies naturally had difficulty breaking down alcohol, “so it’s easier for men to get women drunk and have sex with them,” Eastman recalled Tuesday.
“I remember thinking, ‘this is really inappropriate, but this is the dean of my medical school, so what do I say ... It was almost like he took pride in it,” she said.
Three years later, in 2010, Eastman was standing on the dance floor at a Michigan State fundraising ball, she said, when she felt someone grab her right butt cheek and squeeze. She turned around to see it was Strampel, and he was surrounded by several colleagues, and his wife.
“No one said anything to him, and I didn’t say anything because I thought everyone knew about his behavior ... I just looked at his wife and said, ‘Hello, Mrs. Strampel,’” Eastman said. “It was humiliating.”