Women have said they complained to Michigan State officials as early as 1997 about sports doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse. On Tuesday, the former president of the university was charged with lying to police about the investigation into Nassar.

Lou Anna K. Simon faces two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to an officer in the investigation, according to a warrant. More than 100 women have come forward with stories of abuse by Nassar, who faces a minimum of 40 years for sexual assault crimes.

Simon referred a question about the charges to an attorney.

“I have not seen a shred of evidence to support these charges, which I believe are completely baseless,” said Lee Silver, an attorney for Simon. “We are confident that when we have our day in court, Dr. Simon will be exonerated and these charges will be proven to have no merit whatsoever.”

The charges

In 2014, Nassar was cleared in an investigation by the school after a woman alleged he assaulted her.

Documents in the criminal case say Simon told an officer she was not aware of the nature of the 2014 complaint. When asked if she was aware of any investigation of Nassar before 2016, she “falsely or misleadingly said” she was aware a sports medicine doctor was under review in 2014 “when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar” who was the subject of that investigation, the documents say.

Criminal charges against a former university president are rare, and some saw political motives in the actions of the Michigan attorney general. Others welcomed the action as a signal that administrators cannot sweep such allegations under the rug, but must take action to prevent abuse.

Michael Barasch, a lawyer who has represented victims of abuse in other cases, said the charges send a message of accountability, and a message to leaders that they can’t look the other way. “Apparently the attorney general feels there’s a lot of evidence that she lied, she misled investigators ... she allowed this, and enabled this monster to do what he did,” Barasch said.

Mae Kuykendall, a law professor at MSU, said the presumption of innocence for Simon is present, as it should be.

“Persuading a jury of who said what to whom, and who knew what and when, may well present a challenge,” Kuykendall said. "The prosecution bears a heavy burden to prove a criminal charge. The charge is not civil in nature, or a claim that she had poor judgment about underlings she should trust. It is a criminal charge requiring clear evidence a jury would be justified to believe.”

An ‘immediate leave of absence’

During one of Nassar’s trials last winter, the testimony of more than 150 women and girls horrified the country and led to pressure for Simon, the longtime president of the public university, to leave.

Simon resigned in January, and the board of trustees appointed former Michigan governor John Engler to serve as interim president. Simon retained her tenured faculty position.

In May, the university agreed to settle for $500 million with hundreds of plaintiffs who sued over Nassar’s abuse.

Megan Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, confirmed that independent counsel Bill Forsyth filed charges against Simon, but she declined to comment on the charges or the ongoing investigation.

Emily Guerrant, an MSU spokeswoman, said the school is aware of the charges against Simon. “She is taking an immediate leave of absence, without pay, to focus on her legal situation,” Guerrant said.

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