Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY administrators have long claimed, to the federal government and public, that they have handled sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination complaints properly.
But an Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department, whose top leader, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement on Friday. The actions go well beyond the highly publicized case of former MSU athletic physician Larry Nassar.
Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.
Even MSU’s most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.
Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines. Even more, Dantonio was said to be involved in handling the discipline in at least one of the cases several years ago. As recently as June, Dantonio faced a crowd of reporters who were asking questions about four of his football players who had been accused of sexual assault. Six questions in, a reporter asked Dantonio how he had handled such allegations previously.
“This is new ground for us,” Dantonio answered. “We’ve been here 11 years — it has not happened previously.”
Outside the Lines also has obtained never-before-publicized reports of sexual or violent incidents involving members of Izzo’s storied basketball program, including one report made against a former undergraduate student-assistant coach who was allowed to continue coaching after he had been criminally charged for punching a female MSU student in the face at a bar in 2010. A few months later, after the Spartans qualified for the 2010 Final Four, the same assistant coach was accused of sexually assaulting a different female student.
Michigan State officials, including former president Lou Anna Simon — who resigned Wednesday — have been criticized for a lack of transparency and for not properly handling the Nassar sexual abuse allegations. As far back as 1997, athletes began telling multiple MSU officials, including the university’s longtime gymnastics coach, that Nassar was assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment. Several survivors of Nassar’s abuse excoriated Simon and Michigan State during Nassar’s sentencing hearing in recent days, repeatedly saying that MSU’s inaction allowed Nassar to continue abusing scores of young girls and women.
On Thursday, Outside the Lines reported that MSU officials in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar underway, even though federal investigators were on campus that year scrutinizing how MSU dealt with sexual assault allegations. The Outside the Lines report also found that MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.
In her resignation statement, Simon was defiant, saying that as “tragedies are politicized,” someone had to take the blame. Further, she praised her campus police department’s handling of Nassar-related matters and stated unequivocally that “there is no cover-up.”
Yet former Michigan State sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede, who left the university in 2015 over frustrations about how administrators handled sexual assault cases, told Outside the Lines that MSU administrators’ entire approach to such cases has been misguided for years. The biggest issue? Complaints involving athletes were routinely investigated and handled by athletic director Hollis’ department, and sometimes even coaches, she says.
“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever frontline staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials,” says Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years. “It was all happening behind closed doors. … None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”
In the Nassar case, campus police and Michigan State’s Title IX office did not formally begin investigating him until 2014 — 17 years after the first complaint was made to a Michigan State coach. Nassar remained employed at MSU until September 2016, a few weeks after a gymnast had filed a criminal complaint against him with campus police. Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty in November to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with victims as young as 6 years old and was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison, which will begin after he completes a 60-year sentence he is serving after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. More than 150 women are now suing Nassar, Michigan State and other entities, claiming they were sexually assaulted by him.
Allswede told Outside the Lines that about seven years ago, an attorney from the university’s general counsel’s department came to her office to try to reassure her that coaches were taking allegations of sexual violence seriously. Allswede says the attorney told her how Dantonio, the football coach, had dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one of his players: He had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.
“That did not reassure me at all,” Allswede says. “There’s no guarantee that that had any effect, any help, whatever.”
Hollis resigned Friday, two days after Outside the Lines asked MSU spokesman Jason Cody and the university’s sports information department for interviews with multiple MSU administrators and athletic officials, including Hollis, Izzo and Dantonio. Outside the Lines told Cody of the main findings of its reporting for this story. Cody declined to answer specific questions but issued a statement on Thursday, in part: “Over the past several years, we have dedicated significant new resources to strengthening our efforts to combat sexual violence. Every day, people across campus are working diligently on this critical issue. We acknowledge, however, that we have sometimes fallen short of our goal and the expectations of others. It is clear more needs to be done, and we are using every resource available to get better.”
On Friday evening, Dantonio said accusations about him and his program mishandling sexual assault allegations, including dealing with the one complaint directly, are “completely false.”
Izzo said he did not have a chance to fully digest the report on a game day and declined to answer questions about specifics within it.
“As far as the reports [Friday], we will cooperate with any investigation going forward,” Izzo said. “That’s about all I have to say about it.”
THE CRIMINAL SEXUAL assault charges against the football players that Dantonio addressed at the news conference in June stemmed from two incidents: A January 2017 report by a female Michigan State student who told police she was dragged into a bathroom during a party and forced to perform oral sex on three football players; and an April report that a defensive end had sexually assaulted a woman at her apartment, for which he was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. All four players were kicked off the football team and dismissed from the university.
“We had one incident that involved three people. We had another incident that involved one. We have 120 players usually on our football team,” Dantonio told reporters, again emphasizing the time span of 11 years.
The previously unreported cases that Outside the Lines discovered include three reports of physical violence and three reported sexual assaults by football players. Each was investigated by campus police.
As part of a 2014 reporting effort spanning 10 universities, ESPN requested copies of all police reports involving football and basketball players from campus and local police departments over six seasons. In Michigan State’s case, the university supplied the reports but marked out the players’ names — something East Lansing police did not do. ESPN ultimately sued MSU for the release of material, and Michigan courts ruled that the school had violated the state’s open records laws, awarded ESPN the unredacted records, and told MSU to pay ESPN’s attorneys’ fees. When ESPN submitted a subsequent records request last year, MSU took the unusual step of proactively suing ESPN to defend its withholding of the documents. A judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, wrote that a public body filing suit against a requestor could create a “chilling effect” and dissuade people from requesting records in the first place.
The reports that involve the football team:
On Aug. 31, 2009, campus police responded to a domestic dispute involving a junior offensive tackle and his girlfriend in which each accused the other of destructive and violent behavior. The woman admitted to police vandalizing some of his belongings, and he admitted to trying to drag her out of her car, during which she said he removed her left shoe and began to bend her foot down “like he was trying to break it.” Both declined to pursue charges.
On Dec. 18, 2009, a woman told campus police that her boyfriend, a freshman defensive lineman, shoved her up against the wall of an elevator, pushed her to the ground, kicked her in the torso and punched her in the collarbone and under her left eye after she smacked him in the face. The football player told police he had been trying to restrain her while she tried to hit him, and he never kicked or struck her. Prosecutors dropped the case after the woman declined to press charges.
On Jan. 17, 2010, a woman told campus police that a freshman wide receiver and another football player had raped her in November 2009, prompting her to start drinking excessively and become suicidal. She said she went to the players’ dorm room after a fraternity party, and the players took off her clothes and began kissing her, to which she consented. They asked her to perform oral sex on them, but she refused. She told police that when she decided to leave and bent over to put her pants on, she was raped. The players said the sex was consensual and that they took her home as soon she said she wanted to leave. Court records show no charges were filed.
On Aug. 31, 2013, a woman told campus police that a freshman running back grabbed her with both hands around her arms and slammed her up against a wall after she asked him to say “please” when he told her to take her feet off a chair in his dorm room. The woman had a scrape on her left elbow and on the upper side of her left buttock. The football player told police he had pushed her but never grabbed or threw her up against a wall. The woman told police she only wanted him to apologize, which he did in an officer’s presence, and no charges were filed.
On Oct. 29, 2013, a woman told campus police that she became extremely intoxicated at a party the night before, came back to her dorm room and passed out on her bed. The report states, “the next time she woke up, she was having her pants and legs tugged on by” a freshman football player. She said he “inserted his penis into her vagina” and “would stop and sometimes insert his penis into her mouth then return to vaginal intercourse,” to which she said she did not consent. The player told police, “at no time did [the woman] tell him to stop.” The woman texted him the next morning expressing regret, he told police. The woman told campus police that she did not want to seek criminal prosecution but did want to report the incident to Michigan State judicial services. No criminal charges were filed.
In May 2014, the parents of a deceased Michigan State student filed a report with campus police after they found a notebook from one of their daughter’s therapy sessions. The writings detailed a 2007 gang rape that named four football players. Detectives started what would become a monthslong investigation involving multiple records, analysis and interviews. In June 2015, campus police sent its report to the Ingham County prosecutor’s office, which declined to file charges against any of the players, noting that the woman’s writings could not be used as evidence and investigators were unable to independently corroborate her claims.
It’s unknown whether campus police or any university administrator ever notified Dantonio about the incidents, or if they did, whether the coach ever disciplined any of the players.
University policy required campus police officers to file a complaint with student judicial affairs, even if the person reporting a sexual assault does not want to do so. It is unclear if that happened in each of these cases. Outside the Lines could not contact any of the women who made the reports because campus police redacted their names from police reports, citing privacy concerns.
Allswede, whose former office worked with students who reported assaults, told Outside the Lines she is not familiar with any of the sexual assault reports discovered in the police documents but that does not mean they had not been reported. She says she counseled at least five women who reported being sexually assaulted by male student-athletes and was aware, via her colleagues, of possibly 10 others. She said she suspected even more, especially cases in which the person reporting the assault was also a student-athlete, because of the practice of the athletic department to keep such issues in-house.
“As a Big 10 university with high-profile football, basketball and hockey programs, they want to protect the integrity of the programs — don’t want scandal, don’t want sexual assault allegations, or domestic violence allegations,” Allswede says. “None of it was transparent. It was very insulated, and people were a lot of times discouraged from seeking resources outside of the athletic department.
“I think that the athletic department wanted to keep control over that information.”
ON JAN. 16, 2010, Michigan State junior Ashley Thompson and her friends met at an East Lansing bar to memorialize a friend who had died in a car crash. While the group sought comfort by being together, Thompson said she did not feel like socializing with strangers.
Travis Walton, who a year prior had helped lead Michigan State to the 2009 national championship basketball game and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, approached Thompson’s table.
“He started speaking with us, and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry. Can you just give us a moment?'” Thompson told Outside the Lines. “And he was like, ‘You don’t know who I am?’ And I was like, ‘I really don’t care who you are.’ And he kind of got angry at that point, and I told him to not-so-politely F-off.”
She says Walton — who at the time was an undergraduate student assistant coach under Tom Izzo — instantly became angry.
“I barely got the words out of my mouth, and he came across and he struck me on the right side of my face,” she says. “I kind of reached back toward him, and I didn’t make contact, and then that’s when he swung with a second reach and hit me on the left side of my face and hit me so hard that it knocked me backwards off of my barstool.”
Thompson says she lost consciousness, and by the time she woke up, bouncers already had removed Walton from the bar. She made a police report that evening. Thompson made two trips to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion, bruises and scrapes, according to medical records provided to Outside the Lines.
An East Lansing Police Department report includes statements from two witnesses who confirmed Thompson’s account. Two days later, officers issued an arrest warrant for Walton for misdemeanor assault and battery. Walton pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Feb. 23, 2010, and the presiding judge ruled that he was “OK to travel with the MSU basketball team” while his case was pending.
On April 21, 2010, almost three weeks after the Spartans lost to Butler in the Final Four, Walton’s assault and battery case was dismissed, and he instead pleaded guilty to a civil infraction for littering.
“The prosecuting attorney called and told me, and I was absolutely livid,” Thompson says. “I was heartbroken. It was just very upsetting that someone with a little bit of pull around the school, because he was a basketball star or assistant coach, could kind of just do whatever he wanted and kind of get away with it.”
David Meyers, the former assistant city attorney who handled Thompson’s case, told Outside the Lines he agreed to a plea deal with Walton after his defense attorney provided witness statements that contradicted Thompson’s version of events. He says Walton’s status as a former basketball player and current assistant coach did not figure into his decision. Meyers, who is no longer with the office, says he did not recall further details. The case file is no longer available from the city attorney’s office.
Thompson says someone in the city attorney’s office told her not to talk to the media or to anyone at Michigan State about the incident, so she did not report it to university officials. Meyers says he doesn’t recall ever having talked to Thompson and that he never discouraged victims from discussing their case with others.
Walton, an assistant coach with the NBA G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers in Ontario, California, told Outside the Lines that he never made any physical contact with Thompson and called it a “false accusation.” He says he could not recall exactly what Izzo said about the matter. On Friday evening, Walton was placed on administrative leave “pending further investigation.”
Within that month, Walton’s name would come up in another allegation involving a female MSU student. He and two basketball players — who played for him in the NCAA tournament — were named in a sexual assault report made by the woman and her parents to the athletic department, according to a university document obtained by Outside the Lines. The woman did not report the incident to police but told counselors about it; her parents later told then-athletic director Hollis that she had been raped off campus by Walton and the two players.
According to the report — a letter from Allswede, the university sexual assault counselor, to campus administrators that detailed allegations of sexual assaults on campus — the incident occurred in April 2010. Allswede wrote that the woman’s parents decided to report the incident to Hollis because the woman had become concerned after “hearing that the same men attempted an assault on another student co-worker in a similar manner.”
Hollis “expressed concern about what happened and stated he understood how upset the victim’s parents must be because he couldn’t imagine something like this happening to his own daughters,” the letter states. It states that Hollis said he would “conduct his own investigation.”
Several weeks later, the woman’s parents met with Hollis and associate athletic director Alan Haller, who told them they had spoken with the coaching staff and were told the incident had been discussed with “the basketball team,” according to the letter.
“None of the players were reprimanded in any way,” the letter states. “The victim and her mother were told that there’s not much that can be done to the players (except to increase awareness of sexual assault and ‘intensify’ the training program).”
The letter Allswede wrote says Walton was fired. In an interview with Outside the Lines, Allswede says little action was taken in regard to the players, and the report stayed within the athletic department, not to be investigated by anyone who handled student conduct or judicial affairs issues.
“The players got talked to, and the [assistant] coach was let go,” she says.
Walton seemed surprised by the rape allegation when Outside the Lines asked him for comment about it last week: “I don’t recall anything from that. Wow.” He says he didn’t coach at Michigan State in the fall of 2010 because he returned to playing professional basketball, in Europe.
The portion of Allswede’s letter that covered the Walton allegation ended by noting that the woman’s mother asked athletic department officials if they “would take more serious action should something like this be reported in the future. Mr. Haller responded that they most definitely would.”
A FEW MONTHS later, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2010, a different MSU student — Carolyn Schaner — and a friend walked into the campus police department and told investigators about an incident that had occurred the night before.
Schaner had moved into Wonders Hall that weekend and attended an orientation meeting. Though she did not know who they were, she saw top basketball recruits Adreian Payne and Keith Appling during the orientation, but she did not speak to them. Later that evening, Schaner ran into them in the dorm’s lobby and talked with them before she accepted an invitation to go back to their room, where the three started playing miniature basketball. The two men began taking their clothes off with each missed basket, but Schaner told police she refused to take off any more than her T-shirt, under which she was wearing a sports bra. She told police the two men ended up cornering her and turning off the lights. She told police she felt trapped and fearful of refusing their advances.
Appling, she told police, removed her underwear, and then the two men pulled her to the ground and started penetrating her vaginally, anally and orally. She told police that she said to the men, “I don’t want it,” “stop” and “don’t.”
In a video interview obtained by Outside the Lines, Payne told detectives that Schaner had indicated she wanted to leave.
According to a police report, Payne told officers that he could “understand how she would feel that she was not free to leave.” Payne was concerned about her reaction to the circumstances and had even asked Appling to apologize to her, the report stated. Payne told officers that he had apologized to Schaner because “it seemed she felt that they ‘disrespected’ her.” ESPN does not typically identify people who report acts of sexual violence, but Schaner sought to publicly reveal her identity.
Appling did not talk to detectives at the time, but he granted a phone interview with Outside the Lines late last year while he was in jail near Detroit serving time for a weapons charge.
“It was consensual,” he says, adding that he never heard Schaner say “no” or “stop.” “Had that been the case, I would have completely granted her wishes. We’re not even those type of guys. We wouldn’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable around us.”
Shortly after this story published, Payne, who was playing in the NBA on a two-way contract with the Orlando Magic and its development team, was waived by the Magic. Neither he nor his agent responded to requests for comment.
Schaner says campus police investigators told her that, because of Payne’s police interview, they had a solid case to pursue. Once the case was forwarded from police to Ingham County prosecutors, Schaner was interviewed by an assistant prosecutor, Debra Rousseau Martinez. Schaner says Martinez told her she did not seem strong enough to stand up to questioning that would come as a result of making allegations against MSU basketball players.
No charges were filed in the case. The assistant prosecutor, Martinez, now works for Michigan State’s Title IX office. She declined to comment on Schaner’s case.
The Payne-Appling allegations drew local media coverage and prompted campus protests. Due to the publicity, a regional representative from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reached out to MSU officials and offered assistance. The representative learned nearly immediately that MSU had not started a Title IX investigation into the matter, which is required by federal law.
The university then hired an outside attorney to conduct a Title IX investigation — almost two months after Schaner made her initial report. On Dec. 19, 2010, the attorney concluded that the two men did not violate university policy.
Schaner, though, did not accept the finding. In June 2011, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, accusing the university of several missteps. She said the school did not follow its own policy when relocating the two players — a move she told Outside the Lines she hadn’t been made aware of. She said that, despite having a personal protection order, the university allowed Payne and Appling to walk by her and be in close proximity to her. Her complaint also stated that MSU “has been slow to respond to this incident, and has made attempts to keep the incident as quiet as possible.”
In its response, Michigan State stated it took all appropriate actions by immediately assigning the two basketball players to different campus housing, by offering counseling and academic services to Schaner, and putting strict restrictions in place to limit the two basketball players’ presence near her. MSU said that any encounters among the three were inadvertent and not retaliatory in nature. In his conversation with Outside the Lines, Appling said the one instance in which he and Payne encountered Schaner was an accident and that they were “absolutely aware of the fact that we were not supposed to be around her.”
Records show that both freshmen played in every regular-season game that year; Appling told Outside the Lines that he did not remember if he and Payne received any sort of punishment from coaches.
On Jan. 29, 2014, another female student alleged to federal officials that MSU had mishandled a rape report about an incident at a fraternity two years prior. Based upon that complaint and Schaner’s, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights moved from providing assistance to MSU to starting a formal investigation of the university’s overall handling of violence and sexual assault cases. The agency would end up expanding its investigation to include a review of 150 reports of campus sexual harassment, sexual violence and sexual assault from 2011 to 2014, along with surveys and discussions with multiple staff, faculty and students, including athletes. It found “significant concerns” in about 20 percent of those cases.
Just as that female student in 2014 was alleging MSU had mishandled her rape report, an MSU dean was being notified that a student had accused Larry Nassar, a longtime athletic department physician, of assaulting her, massaging her breasts and vaginal area when she visited him for a hip injury. The day of the woman’s one and only appointment with Nassar, she told a receptionist and another doctor at the sports medicine clinic she “felt violated.” The dean suspended Nassar from seeing patients indefinitely the following afternoon. The university’s police department opened a criminal investigation.
The university’s Title IX department also became involved — and interviewed four experts to evaluate the complaint, all of whom had ties to Nassar. Among the four was Dr. Brooke Lemmen, a fellow physician who was viewed by colleagues as a close friend and “protégé” of Nassar’s. She told the Title IX investigators in the spring of 2014 there was nothing sexual about the treatment Nassar administered. The other three experts agreed with her opinion and decided that the complainant didn’t understand the “nuanced difference” between the medical procedure and assault.
The dean in Nassar’s department, Dr. William Strampel, said he interpreted the 2014 Title IX ruling then to mean Nassar was “exonerated” and “cleared of all charges.” Nassar returned to the clinic with the police investigation still active. Strampel sent Nassar an email on July 30, 2014, which said he was “happy that this has resolved to some extend [sic]” and recapped basic guidelines for what Nassar had to do while treating patients in sensitive areas in the future.
Nassar saw patients for another 16 months while he remained under criminal investigation, which ended with no charges being filed. At least a dozen young women and girls have reported to police that Nassar assaulted them after he was allowed to return to work.
Because the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights had started a formal investigation of MSU’s handling of violence and sexual assault cases when the student filed her complaint in 2014, MSU was obligated to report allegations such as the ones made against Nassar to federal officials. University officials did not do so, however; even today, the university has not provided all Nassar-related files to federal officials, according to documents obtained by Outside the Lines.
On Friday, The Lansing State Journal reported that the 2014 investigation of Nassar by MSU’s Title IX office “concluded that his conduct could open the university to lawsuits and expose patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct.” The findings, the Journal reports, were not shared with the alleged victim but with Michigan State University’s Office of General Counsel, Nassar and Strampel.
On Sept. 1, 2015, the Office for Civil Rights released the results of its investigation, which found the university in violation of several procedural aspects of the Title IX gender discrimination law, such as having inadequate policies and keeping incomplete files. It referenced one report of an MSU employee who was accused “on multiple occasions by different employees of making sexual comments and engaging in inappropriate touching,” and even after two complaints and investigations, the “male employee did not seem to take the allegations seriously.” Investigators also discovered a history of complaints about a university counselor who had “sexually harassed students who sought counseling services after being sexually assaulted.” Although Michigan State campus police officials told investigators that they had assigned trained officers to work with sexual assault victims and that they routinely informed students about how to make a complaint with the university, secure a protection order and get other support services, federal investigators found that to not always be the case.
Investigators repeatedly heard that people who reported sexual assaults had “challenging experiences with the police.” One sexual assault counselor recalled a case in which campus police “discouraged a student from filing a report, telling her that she should not ruin someone’s life,” the report states.
While the Office for Civil Rights determined that MSU “failed to provide a prompt and equitable response” to Schaner, citing the length of time it took to start an investigation, it wrote that the outside attorney in her case completed a “thorough and adequate investigation” and agreed with his finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Schaner had been “subjected to unwelcome sexual contact.” The OCR also determined that Michigan State had provided Schaner with adequate resources and separation from the two players on campus.
Despite the mixed conclusions in Schaner’s case, it was the overall findings about campus culture, based on the agency’s expanded look at Michigan State, which were most critical.
Investigators found that a “sexually hostile environment existed for and affected numerous students and staff on campus,” and MSU’s “failure to address complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in a prompt and equitable manner caused and may have contributed to a continuation of this sexually hostile environment,” according to the report.
The report states students told investigators that Michigan State athletes “have a reputation for engaging in sexual harassment and sexual assault and not being punished for it, because athletes are held in such high regard at the university.” It also states that athletes received more training on sexual harassment and sexual assault than other students but noted possible mixed messages. It cites a program called “Branded a Spartan” about upholding the Spartan name. Some male athletes told investigators that “making a report about sexual assault might tarnish the Spartan brand,” and at least one said he might not report an incident involving a fellow athlete to the Title IX office, according to the report.
As a result of the investigation and its findings, Michigan State entered into a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education in which it committed to making enhancements to its Title IX staffing and resources, education and training; to revisit prior cases, including Schaner’s; to determine if additional action needed to be taken; and to conduct a series of campuswide “climate checks” to assess how well the university was making changes.
One of the cases MSU was required to review involved an allegation against former Michigan State wide receiver Keith Mumphery. A female student alleged that she was sexually assaulted by him on March 17, 2015, and filed a police report.
Mumphery never faced charges, and in September 2015, investigators from MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity found that Mumphery had not violated Michigan State’s policy on violence and sexual misconduct. Upon review of the case per the OCR directive, though, MSU determined in March 2016 that Mumphery had indeed violated the university’s violence and sexual assault policy.
In November 2017, the woman filed a Title IX gender discrimination lawsuit against MSU, alleging that MSU failed in its investigation of her complaint and by not supporting or protecting her despite multiple requests for help. The lawsuit states that the school failed to provide her with counseling and academic support while twice investigating her complaint and, after eventually finding Mumphery in violation, did not uphold a provision banning him from campus.
The school also is facing a Title IX lawsuit filed in 2015 representing the claims of three women who said the school failed to appropriately respond to their reports of sexual assault.
MSU officials have declined comment on specific cases, but they provided Outside the Lines with a progress report on the university’s compliance with the OCR agreement at the beginning of the school year, noting that the Office of Institutional Equity — which includes Title IX — saw its budget increase from $300,000 in 2015 to $1.2 million in 2017. The progress report indicates the university has completed all of the steps, except for a final review of reported complaints and climate check due in June. Correspondence obtained by Outside the Lines this week shows OCR officials do not agree that all steps have been completed. The university remains under federal investigation, and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday, after the Outside the Lines report published, that the department “will hold MSU accountable for any violations of federal law.”
The Lansing State Journal in June reported that it had requested a report made of Michigan State’s Title IX system from November 2014 to May 2015 that had been completed by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, which has worked with MSU during the OCR review period. The school refused to release the report. When Pepper Hamilton completed a review of Title IX compliance in 2016 at Baylor University, a private college not subject to open records law, the school released a 13-page summary report that found failure at all levels of the university when it came to handling reports of sexual violence.
Pepper Hamilton’s review at Michigan State was being conducted at the same time ESPN was trying to get copies of police reports from the East Lansing and Michigan State police departments that had named football and basketball players as suspects. East Lansing promptly provided the information with minimal redactions; the university did not, and ESPN took legal action.
Schaner, having followed recent cases and also the Nassar allegations as they relate to MSU, does not believe university officials have made the progress they need to be making.
“They’re not protecting students at all except the ones that are doing what is wrong,” says Schaner, who graduated from Michigan State in 2012. “I really felt like I was the only one that this has happened to, and I find out, no, it actually isn’t that uncommon.”
The university’s lack of transparency, though, does not just hurt alleged victims, some defense attorneys told Outside the Lines. One of them is Mary Chartier, an attorney who represents one of the three football players named in the January 2017 sexual assault, whose case is pending in criminal court.
“It’s all secretive. … No one benefits when the process isn’t fair,” she says. “I don’t think the university is being transparent.”
Allswede, Michigan State’s former sexual assault counselor, says the totality of the allegations against MSU should be considered.
“A lot of the statements that are coming out now … from Mark Hollis or administration claiming there’s no rape culture, is misleading,” Allswede says. “When there’s multiple reports against specific programs, that needs to be followed up on. That needs to be addressed. It’s not a coincidence.”
Nicole Noren is a producer in ESPN’s investigative unit. Investigative reporter John Barr and staff writer Dan Murphy contributed to this report.