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Michigan sports doctor facing key hearing in assault case

Several women, girls claim he molested them during treatments

  • Doctor-Sexual-Abuse-Larry-Nassar

    Former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar appears via video link for his arraignment hearing in November in Mason, Mich.

    ASSOCIATED RPESS

  • Doctor-Sexual-Abuse-1

    MSU gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages says she's retiring immediately, after the school announced her suspension. Her name has surfaced in lawsuits by female athletes who accuse a Michigan State sports doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexually abusing them during treatments.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

MASON, Mich. — A sports doctor who treated female gymnasts at Michigan State University and through USA Gymnastics faces a key hearing today to determine if he will go to trial on sexual assault charges. The allegations do not involve an athlete; Dr. Larry Nassar is accused of assaulting a girl at his home between 1998 and 2005.

The case is one of many legal challenges he faces since dozens of women and girls stepped forward to claim that he molested them during treatments as far back as the 1990s:

WHO IS NASSAR?

Nassar, 53, received a medical degree from Michigan State in 1993 and returned to teach and become doctor for the women’s gymnastics team. More than 80 percent of his patients were gymnasts, dancers and cheerleaders, many from outside MSU.

He also was a doctor for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, until September 2015. The Indianapolis Star last September quoted former gymnasts who said Nassar molested them while they sought treatment for back pain.

Nassar hasn’t commented directly, but his lawyers have denied misconduct.

HAS HE BEEN CHARGED WITH CRIMES?

Nassar faces charges in two cases so far, although they’re not related to his work with athletes. Besides the case involving the alleged abuse of a girl at his home, Nassar is charged in federal court with possessing child pornography and trying to destroy possible evidence.

The FBI says at least 37,000 images and videos were discovered. He’s in jail without bond.

“Either you’ve got it or you don’t. It’s very difficult to fight and the penalties are severe,” former federal prosecutor John Smietanka said of child porn charges.

WHAT IS HAPPENING AT MICHIGAN STATE?

Nassar, who had a campus clinic, was fired in September. Women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages suddenly quit Wednesday, a day after she was suspended for defending Nassar during a team meeting months ago.

In lawsuits against the doctor, at least two women said Klages downplayed their complaints about him when they were part of a gymnastics youth group at MSU in the late 1990s. An attorney for the coach said Klages would never put athletes in “harm’s way.”

MSU said it had received only two formal complaints about Nassar, including one in 2014; no charges were filed then. A second complaint last summer led to a broader police investigation, which is ongoing. President Lou Anna Simon recently called Nassar’s behavior “criminal and repugnant.”

“If anybody thinks this stops at the gymnastics coach, they’re smoking some pretty good dope,” said John Manly, an attorney who is representing more than 40 women or girls who are suing Nassar or planning to join the litigation. “Sexual abuse of this magnitude doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF CIVIL LAWSUITS?

More females who say they’re victims lately have been added to lawsuits each week. The largest case is in federal court in western Michigan, and it names Nassar, MSU and USA Gymnastics as defendants.

USA Gymnastics won’t comment on specific allegations but says it’s “appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.” The lawsuits accuse MSU of failing to do more to prevent assaults.

The school also won’t address specific allegations. There is an ongoing internal review of all aspects of Nassar’s work.

Rachael Denhollander, 32, of Louisville, Kentucky, said she was assaulted by Nassar while seeing him for wrist and back injuries in 2000.

Denhollander didn’t file a complaint at the time because she believed her “voice would not be heard” because of Nassar’s reputation.

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