Why isn’t law enforcement investigating USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee? A prosecutor’s inquiry into Michigan State University has yielded important results with the arrest of medical school dean William Strampel on a range of charges, including willful negligence in the case of sexual abuser Larry Nassar. Somebody with a badge should similarly look at the USA sports organizations and seize their hard drives.
It took a raid on Michigan State for special prosecutor Bill Forsyth to find the evidence to charge Strampel for misconduct in the Nassar case and to uncover more stunning evidence that Strampel was allegedly using his office to perpetrate his own sex crimes, “to harass, discriminate, demean, sexually proposition and sexually assault” female students. There were pornographic images on Strampel’s work computer that appear to be of MSU students, who were perhaps coerced, and there was a DVD of Nassar “treating” a patient vaginally. You don’t get that kind of evidence from congressional hearings.
There are significant unanswered questions about how leaders at both USA Gymnastics and the USOC handled accusations against Nassar and other abusers and whether they acted out of mere uncertainty and ignorance or apathy or a coverup. In the summer of 2015, three of our most decorated gold medalists reported being molested by the national team’s medical director, Nassar. Why did USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny wait five full weeks to report Nassar to the FBI? And why in the world was Nassar allowed to quietly “retire” from the national program in September 2015, when it was pretty damn clear he had all but raped a teenager who was a prominent Olympic team member, McKayla Maroney?
Maroney’s story was vivid, and there was no reason to think she invented it: Nassar drugged her with a sleeping pill on a team flight, then took her to a hotel room alone, rubbed himself on her and digitally penetrated her. She was 15.
USA Gymnastics is headquartered in Indianapolis, where the state has mandatory child abuse reporting laws. The USOC is in Colorado Springs, where state law specifically names sports organizations as mandatory reporters who must forward suspicion of child abuse to the law. Where are the prosecutors and attorneys general of those states, and why aren’t they investigating the failure to report and whether it led to other preventable crimes?
USA Gymnastics and the USOC had a clear duty once they learned of Maroney’s assault. Their duty wasn’t to conduct an “internal” inquiry. Or to spend five weeks mulling what to do. Or to draw up a settlement with a “nondisclosure” agreement for Maroney to sign. Or to ask USOC CEO Scott Blackmun how to handle it. Or to deny they had any jurisdiction. It was their duty to go straight to law enforcement and say, “We have a 15-year-old girl who says she was molested.” They didn’t do it in Maroney’s case or in umpteen other cases either. An investigation by the Indianapolis Star found 54 case files of sexual abuse allegations by gymnastics coaches, with widespread failures to alert authorities.
“The most amazing thing about this evolution is that no one has executed a search warrant on USA Gymnastics and no one has executed one on the USOC,” says civil attorney John Manly, who represents many of Nassar’s victims, including Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols. “If anyone deserves a search warrant given the evidence to date, it’s them. If you believe these Olympic gold medalists, then [USA Gymnastics] violated the reporting laws in Indiana. I mean, why haven’t you done something?”
And where in the world is the FBI? The FBI waited a year to interview Maroney, and even then, it only spoke to Maroney by phone. Also, it let USA Gymnastics officials interfere with athlete interviews, according to Manly and Raisman, who says Penny even attempted to sit in on her conversation with agents. “Look, I don’t want to dis the FBI, which does a fantastic job, but they either screwed up here or worse,” Manly says.
There doesn’t seem to be any comprehensive investigating of all this, only piecemeal nibbles: hearings by congressional committees that lack the ability to compel, a murky internal FBI inquiry and a probe of some sort by the Texas Rangers into conditions at the gymnastics training center outside Houston. To date, the most significant badged investigation remains the one launched by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
It was Schuette who ordered the raid on the MSU campus that turned up Strampel’s office pornography, after he decided the university wasn’t being cooperative. It’s a good thing he did. According to victims’ attorneys, Strampel’s personnel file at the university contained previously undisclosed complaints about inappropriate sexual conduct dating from 2004, which would have been known to university officials. “There has been documentation of reports of sexual harassment, abuse and even bullying going back over a decade,” says attorney Mick Grewal, who represents 100 victims.
Too often, law enforcement lacks enthusiasm when it comes to sex crimes against young women. Any collegian who has filed a sex assault complaint at a football school can tell you that. “There is a mentality in some places in law enforcement that doesn’t value these type of cases,” Manly says. “It’s hard to get prosecutors to file them.”
If reporting laws are to have any teeth and if the victims of Larry Nassar are to have full justice, the badges need to get more involved. They need to seize documents and internal communications, texts and emails that show who knew what and when. “The only way to fix it is to make it right and pursue to wherever it leads,” Manly says. “These girls and their families deserve answers and accountability.” Civil suits and settlements aren’t enough, and neither are subpoena-less congressional hearings. Nassar’s victims need to know that law enforcement won’t let what happened to them happen to others. Right now, they don’t know that. After Strampel’s arrest, Raisman posted a response on Instagram.
“At this point, it’s clear that failing to investigate and understand how this abuse could go on for so long is just asking history to repeat itself,” she wrote. “What is it going to take?!”
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.
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