USA Gymnastics, Michigan State, Dr. Larry Nassar sued by 18 athletes over alleged sexual assaults

DETROIT - A Michigan doctor accused of sexually abusing gymnasts was sued Tuesday by 18 women and girls, the latest legal action over alleged assaults, mostly at his clinic at Michigan State University.

The lawsuit against Dr. Larry Nassar, Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and a Lansing-area gymnastics club was filed in federal court in western Michigan. It makes claims of civil rights violations, discrimination and negligence.

CBS News usually doesn’t name people who allege sexual abuse, but one of the plaintiffs, Rachael Denhollander of Kentucky, talked publicly about the lawsuit. She said she was assaulted by Nassar in 2000 when she was 15 and visited him because of wrist and back injuries.

Denhollander, who was a gymnast, said she didn’t file a complaint at the time because she believed her “voice would not be heard.” She said Nassar was held in high esteem at Michigan State. He also was affiliated with USA Gymnastics.

The abuse alleged by the 18 women and girls occurred over 20 years. Most were minors at the time and “cloaked with innocence and trust of their youth,” attorney Stephen Drew told reporters.

Nassar now faces at least five lawsuits. Through lawyers, he’s denied the allegations. He’s also charged with possessing child pornography and sexually assaulting a girl at his Holt, Michigan, home and is being held in jail without bond.

In a statement, Michigan State declined to comment on the lawsuit but said campus police are investigating Nassar with state and federal authorities. Outside lawyers also are advising the university on an internal review of Nassar’s clinical work. He was fired in 2016.

There was no immediate comment from Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics. The group has cut ties with Nassar.

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More women allege abuse by former USA Gymnastics and MSU doctor

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Eighteen current and former female athletes have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming that Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, sexually abused them during medical exams.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of court cases targeting Nassar. More than 65 women have filed lawsuits or police complaints of sexual assault against him, including former U.S. gymnastics national team members. He also faces criminal charges for sexual abuse and child pornography.

The accusers in the new lawsuit ranged in age from 9 to 29 years old at the time of the abuse, according to a civil complaint filed Tuesday morning in Michigan.

Nassar, 53, is perhaps best known for his work with the U.S. women's gymnastics team. He started working international competitions with America's elite gymnasts as a trainer in 1986 and as team doctor in 1996.

Nassar was dismissed by USA Gymnastics in the summer of 2015 after gymnasts told officials with the sport's governing body about his alleged behavior during medical exams, but he continued to treat patients in and around Lansing, Michigan, for more than a year thereafter even though his conduct was, at the time, under the scrutiny of the FBI.

The plaintiffs who filed suit Tuesday participated in a variety of sports, including gymnastics, swimming, figure skating, track and field, field hockey, basketball and soccer.

Some were treated at Nassar's campus office within the Michigan State sports medicine facility, and others were treated at Twistars Gym, a gymnastics training center near Lansing where Nassar also saw patients.

In addition to Nassar, Michigan State University, Twistars and USA Gymnastics are all named as defendants in the lawsuit, which says that all three institutions should have stopped Nassar's alleged behavior years before they finally severed ties with him.

"We intend to show and prove that the young women we represent were betrayed not only by a doctor that used his reputation and position of trust to commit sexual abuse and assaults upon their bodies for his own gratification," says Stephen Drew, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, "but that the institutions and those in them with a responsibility to protect those children and young women failed to do so."

Nassar and Twistars could not be reached immediately for comment. In the past, Nassar has denied claims of abuse, saying that he was performing a standard medical procedure.

In a statement, Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said, "While we cannot comment specifically on pending or ongoing litigation, we are deeply disturbed by the state and federal criminal charges against Larry Nassar, and our hearts go out to those directly affected. The criminal investigation into Larry Nassar is a top priority for MSU Police. Detectives are vigorously reviewing all complaints and working through them with the state Attorney General's office and federal U.S. Attorney's Office."

According to the statement, Michigan State began an internal review of Nassar's work for the university in September. It cited one 2014 complaint that "was investigated by MSU Police and our Title IX office," but beyond that, the statement said, "To date, MSU's review has discovered no evidence that any individuals came forward to MSU with complaints about Nassar before Aug. 29, 2016."

USA Gymnastics also issued a statement: "USA Gymnastics finds the allegations against Dr. Nassar very disturbing. When we first learned of athlete concerns regarding Dr. Nassar in the summer of 2015, we immediately notified the FBI and relieved him of any further assignments. USA Gymnastics has fully cooperated with the FBI in its investigation. We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and we are grateful to the athletes who have come forward."

The alleged abuse dates back as far as 1996, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs all make highly similar claims, saying that Nassar, "under the guise of treatment," inserted his ungloved fingers into their vaginas and/or rectums and, in some cases, groped their breasts.

Some of the victims, minors at the time, had gone to see Nassar for injuries to their hamstrings and elbows.

Rachael Denhollander, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and the only one named, alleges that Nassar sexually abused her during a medical exam in 2000, when Denhollander was a 15-year-old club-level gymnast.

"On approximately five separate occasions, at appointments at his office at MSU, Defendant Nassar digitally penetrated Plaintiff Denhollander's vagina and anus with his finger and thumb without prior notice and without gloves or lubricant under the guise of performing 'treatment,'" the lawsuit states.

Denhollander didn't report Nassar to Michigan State University Police until August 2016. Her police report, first made public by The Indianapolis Star, led to dozens of accusations from other women, many of them athletes. More than 60 other women have since filed similar complaints against Nassar with Michigan State University Police.

Warning signs about Nassar's behavior during medical exams were raised years earlier.

Last month, Tiffany Lopez, a former Spartans softball player, filed a lawsuit against Nassar in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

In 1997, Lopez, known then by her maiden name, Tiffany Thomas, was a softball player on full scholarship, a freshman who helped lead the Spartans to the NCAA regional tournament for only the second time in school history. After she developed chronic lower-back pain in 1998, university athletic trainers sent her to see Dr. Nassar.

Lopez alleges that Nassar sexually abused her during medical exams over a period of three years.

When she grew disturbed by his methods and complained to the training staff, Lopez says she was told that Nassar was a world-renowned doctor and that his treatments, which he called "inter-vaginal adjustments," were legitimate practice.

Lopez's lawsuit is among a mounting list of civil and criminal complaints against Nassar:

In early September, a former gymnast on the U.S. women's national team, a 2000 Olympic medalist, sued Nassar and the sport's governing body, USA Gymnastics, claiming that Nassar assaulted her when she traveled for competitions. Nassar penetrated the plaintiff in her sleeping quarters while she wasn't supervised by a chaperone, according to the lawsuit. During one exam, he allegedly talked about oral sex.
In late October, a second former gymnast with the U.S. women's national team filed suit against Nassar, claiming that he sexually assaulted her during medical exams and that the legendary former coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, failed to protect her and engaged in their own pattern of physical and emotional abuse. The suit also claims that top USA Gymnastics officials had "wide-ranging knowledge" of the abuse but for years "concealed and ignored" it.
Last month Nassar was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under 13. The charges, announced by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, do not involve an athlete but rather a girl Nassar allegedly sexually assaulted in his home in Holt, Michigan, between 1998 and 2005.
Also last month, Nassar was arrested on two counts of possessing and receiving child pornography. According to U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles, Nassar had 37,000 images on his computer, including images of a girl younger than 12.

USA Gymnastics, coach John Geddert sued for failing to protect athletes from alleged sexual abuse

John Geddert, head coach of the record-shattering 2012 Olympic champion U.S. women’s gymnastics team, failed to report parent concerns about possible sexual abuse by Team USA physician Dr. Larry Nassar, a federal lawsuit alleges.

In addition to Geddert, who also guided Jordyn Wieber to the 2011 World all-around title, the suit also names USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, and Michigan State University. Eighteen women allege Nassar committed sexual assault, battery, molestation and harassment over a 20-year period.

The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, is the 21st civil lawsuit filed against Nassar, the former Michigan State team doctor, since September.

The most recent suit charges that between 1996 and 2016, Nassar sexually assaulted girls and young women athletes, some as young as 9, in at least seven sports at USA Gymnastics events, at Michigan State and at Twistars, two Michigan gyms owned and operated by Geddert. As with earlier suits, the women allege they were penetrated vaginally and anally by Nassar’s ungloved fingers. One alleged victim said she underwent treatment from Nassar at least 50 times.

The lawsuit also alleges that a parent expressed concerns about Nassar to Geddert in 1997, but the coach did not report those concerns to police.

Geddert did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to coaching Team USA’s triumph at the 2012 London Games, Geddert was also the head coach of a U.S. women’s team that won the team gold medal at the 2011 World Championships. Wieber, who trained under Geddert at Twistars, took the individual all-around crown and Orange County’s McKayla Maroney won the vault gold medal at the 2011 Worlds. Nassar served as the U.S. gymnastics team physician through four Olympic Games.

Stephen R. Drew, one of the attorneys for the alleged victims in the federal case, said Nassar was able to abuse young female athletes for decades in part because of weak detection and enforcement procedures at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State.

“If you have the right systems in place and you vigorously enforce them and you send the message that, ‘We are going to vigorously enforce them,’ that’s how you stop these types of things from happening,” he said. “You don't discourage people from making complaints.”

Nassar is being held without bail after being arrested on federal child pornography charges last month. The FBI found at least 37,000 child pornography videos or images on Nassar’s home computers, according to a detention hearing transcript. He also faces three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person younger than 13 in Ingham County in Michigan.

Nassar has not denied using vaginal penetration as a medical procedure but only for the purpose of proper medical treatment, his attorneys said last year.

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