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Simon lied to cover up MSU's "screwup" in 2014, state tells court

Lou Anna Simon
MiSpartan Impact
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan State University "screwed up" its investigation into Larry Nassar in 2014 - perhaps even intentionally - and former president Lou Anna Simon lied to police to cover it up, state attorneys argued Tuesday.

"She lied to the media, she lied to the victims, she lied to Congress," Assistant Michigan Attorney General Scott Teter told the court.

"Her lie, all the way along, has been exactly what she told us: 'I didn’t know [about Nassar] until 2016 when the newspaper report came out, and then we were all of course shocked and appalled.'

"That's not true. But once she started telling that lie, from that point forward, she has two choices: when she meets with us [the police] in 2018, it’s either lie to us, or admit she lied to everybody else, and expose herself and MSU to additional civil and possible criminal liability."

"It went all the way to Simon’s desk."

Simon is facing four charges of lying to police during an interview in May of 2018. Detectives were investigating whether anyone at MSU "helped conceal or otherwise facilitate Dr. Nassar's" sexual abuse of hundreds of women and girls. Simon told detectives that back in 2014, Simon only knew “there was a sports medicine doc who was subject to a review."

In reality, the state argued, Simon was specifically debriefed on MSU's 2014 investigation into Nassar, which began when a young grad student named Amanda Thomashow reported she'd been abused by Nassar during an exam.

"What happened to her, and how her report was mishandled by MSU, and that it went all the way to the defendant's desk, before being swept under the rug, sets the motive for the defendant to lie," Teter said.

But the defense called the charges against Simon "absurd lies," cooked up by a Michigan State Police detective and former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for political gain.

In a colorful opening statement, defense attorney Mayer Morganroth first introduced himself to the court as Jack Kevorkian and Coleman Young's former attorney.

Lou Anna Simon
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon paces as she waits for her preliminary hearing to start.

"He talks about victims," Morganroth said, referring to Assistant AG Teter's statements about Nassar survivors. "Lou Anna Simon had 47 years at Michigan State, working her way up. Now, they go and indict her here, after Nassar's put away and everything. Indict her, ruin her reputation, ruin her life, and she doesn't even have her job because she got indicted at Michigan State - any job, because of this indictment."

Survivor says she told MSU investigators details of assault

The prosecution called Amanda Thomashow, the woman who reported Nassar to MSU in 2014, as its first witness. Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke overruled the defense's objections that Thomashow’s testimony wouldn't be relevant to the case, since she couldn’t directly speak to what Lou Anna Simon knew in 2014.

Thomashow testified that she'd gone to see Nassar in 2014 for some old back injuries she’d sustained as a cheerleader in high school. During the exam, Nassar told the female medical resident to leave the room, and proceeded to have Thomashow lay down. He then massaged Thomashow’s breast and bare butt, before using three fingers to circle her vaginal opening - despite Thomashow repeatedly telling him to stop.

Nassar also attempted to penetrate her with his fingers, but Thomashow says she physically pushed him off her.

"And then when he hid in the corner of the room and was using his hand sanitizer," Thomashow said, it was clear Nassar "had become excited, and was waiting for his erection to get smaller so he could come over and talk to me. And I told them that."

"Them" in this instance refers to Kristine Moore, an MSU Title IX investigator at the time, and MSU Police Detective Val O'Brien.

Moore and O'Brien interviewed Thomashow together in the spring of 2014, weeks after she’d initially reported Nassar to MSU. That initial report "sat" for more than three weeks, prosecutors said.

Christina Grossi
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Assistant Michigan Attorney General Christina Grossi takes her place in court.

The morning after Moore first heard Thomasow's complaint, Moore called her supervisor, Paulette Granberry Russell. At the time, Granberry Russell was running MSU’s Title IX office, and asked Moore to send her the details about Thomashow's complaint. That's according to the police affidavit.

From there, Moore sent an email to Granberry Russell's personal email address, with the subject line "overview of the claim we discussed." It included a "very general summary" of Thomashow's complaint, including that Nassar massaged her vagina "as one would if they were getting intimate."

Police say from there, Granberry Russell brought up the Nassar complaint in a standing meeting she had with Simon, where they typically went over "hot button issues" that could impact the school. Police say notes from Granberry Russell and Simon indicate that they discussed the Nassar case in greater detail than Simon admitted to police.

MSU investigation doesn’t include Nassar’s erection, attempted penetration

But despite Thomashow telling both Moore and O’Brien that Nassar attempted to penetrate her and had a visible erection, neither of those details are ever mentioned in either Moore nor O'Brien's reports.

In the past, MSU has insinuated that Thomashow wasn't telling the truth, that she didn't include that information in her complaint.

But reporter Alexandra Ilitch recently put some of Kristine Moore’s notes from the 2014 investigation on Twitter. They include the phrases, "went to corner of room 30-45 sec doing hand sanitzer" and "I thought weird maybe erect."

While the prosecution didn't describe Moore's notes in detail during Tuesday's hearing, Assistant Michigan Attorney General Scott Teter did ask Thomashow to look over Moore's notes from her interview, to see if they were an accurate representation of her complaint. Thomashow confirmed that the notes were correct.

Weeks after sitting down with Title IX investigator Kristine Moore and Detective Val O'Brien, Thomashow testified she was called back in to meet with Moore again. This time, Moore told her that "I had not been sexually assaulted." Thomashow said Moore informed her they’d interviewed female medical experts who'd cleared Nassar (all of the medical experts worked with Nassar at MSU, and two of them were even recommended to Moore by Nassar himself.)

Thomashow said she asked Moore if the police still needed her victim impact statement. Moore told her no, that the "investigations were done." In fact, the MSU Police Department's criminal investigation into Thomashow's complaint remained open for another year.

Teter asked Thomashow if she'd "received anything else" from MSU, after they gave her a shortened version of the Title IX report.

"I get a bunch of phone calls asking for donations," Thomashow told the court. "I've gotten hundreds of nights of no sleep because of recurring nightmares. Probably thousands of anxiety attacks, some of which were so bad I had to go to the hospital. I now have 12 bleeding ulcers in my digestive tract," she said.

"I lost my sense of self. I wanted to die for years. Thanks to MSU, I can no longer park on the top of parking structures, because of the overwhelming desire to drive off of them...the way that MSU treated me, silenced me, killed me. And I'm not the same person. That's what I’ve gotten in return for reporting."

Defense: Schuette wanted #MeToo cred

Defense attorney Lee Silver urged Judge Reincke not to let this case become about "the culture at MSU" or any mistakes that other administrators may have made in the 2014 investigation.

"The sole purpose, your honor, of the prosecution of introducing Ms. Thomashow, is to garner sympathy, play to the hordes of media that are here, and seek to stoke or inflame prejudice against our client, Dr. Simon, to cover up the flaws that we believe are fatal to the prosecution's case," Silver told the court at the beginning of the hearing, in his argument to exclude Thomashow's testimony. He was overruled.

"This proceeding is not about whether Ms. Thomashow was assaulted by Larry Nassar," Silver said. "This is not about whether Kristine Moore and Michigan State did a proper investigation into her complaint. This proceeding is limited to whether Ms. Simon lied to police in her interview."

Mayer Morganroth, Simon's other attorney, went further. "The only other person" who would have been in that meeting to brief Simon on the Nassar investigation is Paulette Granberry Russell.

"Paulette does not recall ever discussing Larry Nassar with Lou Anna, in 2014. And doesn't remember the meeting of May 19, 2014 ever taking place," Morganroth said. "She said that five times to [the police] and they kept pushing her to say what they wanted. And she still said no, we didn't have that meeting, and if we did it was by phone."

And why, Morganroth asked the court, would Michigan State Police even want to interview Simon in the spring of 2018? Especially since Nassar himself had already been sentenced to prison?

"There was an election going on," Morganroth said. "The attorney general was a man, running for an office that a woman was running for, for governor. And everything seemed to be woman-weighted, because of the fact of all of these things that happened to these women. So what happens? How do they switch it? Well, the Attorney General brings out a woman, and says she lied. And all of a sudden it's a woman that's involved, and all of a sudden it's helpful for an election," Morganroth said.

Actually, the criminal charges against Simon were'’t brought until November 20, 2018, two weeks after Schuette lost his bid for governor to Gretchen Whitmer.

Simon resigned as president last winter over the Nassar scandal, but retained a position at MSU until she was recently put on unpaid leave.

Judge Reincke adjourned the hearing until April, when it's scheduled to resume.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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