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 has also 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.
FootballIn 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.
Men's BasketballThe reports that involve the football team:
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.
- 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 months-long 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.
ON JAN. 16, 2010
More men's basketball, 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 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, now 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.
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 and MSU athletic director Mark 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 and her mother 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.
A FEW MONTHS
http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/22214566/pattern-denial-inaction-information-suppression-michigan-state-goes-larry-nassar-case-espnlater, 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 her wishes. We're not even those type of guys. We wouldn't want anybody to feel uncomfortable around us."
Payne is playing in the NBA on a two-way contract with the Orlando Magic and its development team. 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.
There are unconfirmed reports that Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio may retire in the next few days.