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Gymnasts sue FBI for $1 billion over mishandling of Larry Nassar case

From left, former Team USA gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols are among the women who have filed a lawsuit against the FBI over its handling of the Larry Nassar investigation. (Saul Loeb/AP)
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A group of 90 women that includes former U.S. Olympic team gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman filed a lawsuit against the FBI, alleging it mishandled its investigation of former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar, allowing him to continue to sexually abuse them even after they had reported him to the bureau in 2015.

The women are collectively seeking more than $1 billion from the FBI in a lawsuit filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a 1946 law that makes the United States liable for injuries “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” They join 13 others who in April filed a similar lawsuit against the FBI, citing a July report released by the Justice Department’s inspector general that found the bureau failed to properly investigate serious sex-abuse allegations against Nassar.

“The FBI knew that Larry Nassar was a danger to children when his abuse of me was first reported in September of 2015. For 421 days they worked with USA Gymnastics and USOPC to hide this information from the public and allowed Nassar to continue molesting young women and girls. It is time for the FBI to be held accountable,” former Team USA gymnast Maggie Nichols said in a statement released by lawyers representing the group of women.

The FBI declined to comment, referring to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray’s remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee made in September 2021.

The Justice Department report found that USA Gymnastics contacted the FBI’s Indianapolis field office in July 2015 about the allegations against Nassar, but that office’s inaction led USA Gymnastics to again report Nassar in May 2016 to a Los Angeles FBI field office. That office put more work into an investigation but took no action against Nassar.

According to the report, Nassar victimized about 70 women and girls between the time when the FBI was first told of the allegations and when Michigan officials arrested him in the fall of 2016 on the basis of separate information.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that “senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies” before attempting to blame others when confronted with their shortcomings.

In a Senate hearing on Sept. 15, four gymnasts condemned the FBI’s handling of the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by coach Larry Nassar. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

After the inspector general’s report, which the FBI accepted, the agency issued multiple statements in which it called its actions “inexcusable and a discredit to this organization” and said that “this should not have happened.” However, the FBI announced late last month that the agents who mishandled the Nassar investigation would not be charged with a crime. The FBI did fire one of the agents in September, while the other retired during the Justice Department’s investigation. Both were found to have lied about their roles in the Nassar case to federal investigators.

“My fellow survivors and I were betrayed by every institution that was supposed to protect us — the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, the FBI and now the Department of Justice. I had some hope that they would keep their word and hold the FBI accountable after we poured out our hearts to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and begged for justice. It is clear that the only path to justice and healing is through the legal process,” Maroney said in the statement.

In a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) criticized the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute the special agents. Wicker, ranking Republican of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, called the decision “egregious,” adding that it “severely calls into question the Department’s judgment. I am particularly concerned this lack of accountability will further erode confidence in law enforcement among victims of sexual abuse, making it less likely abuse will be reported in the future.

“The right of Olympic athletes to compete and train in an environment free from abuse of any kind is of the utmost importance. In this instance, young women, mostly minors, were sexually abused by an individual entrusted with their care and well-being,” Wicker wrote.

Wicker called on the Justice Department to brief the Commerce Committee on its review process and to respond to a series of questions by June 22.

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