February 1, 2018 / 4:59 PM / 4 months ago

Olympic officials failed to act on Nassar sex abuse claims - report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Olympic Committee officials were told in 2015 that an investigation by USA Gymnastics had uncovered possible criminal sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar but they failed to intervene, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault, and his attorney Matt Newburg stand during victims impact statements during his sentencing in the Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The report came amid widening repercussions over official failure to act on Nassar, who sexually assaulted athletes in the guise of medical treatment for nearly 20 years.

Officials from Meridian Township, Michigan, on Thursday made a tearful public apology to one victim whose 2004 complaint to Meridian Township Police against Nassar went unheeded. The township is located in Ingham County.

Nassar last week was sentenced to up to 175 years in a Michigan court in Ingham County after he pleaded guilty to sexual assault in November. Nassar faces another sentencing hearing on sexual assault charges on Friday in a Michigan court in Eaton County.

In the latest revelation, USA Gymnastics then-president Steve Penny called Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, in July 2015 with a request for guidance on how to handle allegations that Nassar had sexually abused gymnasts, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

On the call, Penny told Blackmun he planned to alert law enforcement after a gymnast described what appeared to be a sexual assault by Nassar, the newspaper reported.

Blackmun told Penny to “do what he had to do,” but provided no further guidance to USA Gymnastics in the months to come on how to handle the matter, the Journal said.

Blackmun told the Journal that he had urged Penny to turn over the case to law enforcement, and that the USOC’s own upcoming investigation would examine what individuals knew about Nassar and when, the newspaper said.

In response to The Wall Street Journal story, the USOC reiterated in an email to Reuters that it was launching an independent probe “to determine what complaints were made, when, to whom, and what was done in response.” USA Gymnastics did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many of Nassar’s victims have criticized the USOC for failing to remove him sooner. That has come as part of wider outrage at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body in the United States, and Michigan State University, where Nassar was employed and abused many of his victims.

Under pressure from the USOC, the entire board of USA Gymnastics resigned last week. The president and athletic director at Michigan State University also stepped down.

Not far from the Michigan State campus, Meridian Town Manager Frank Walsh and Police Chief Dave Hall publicly apologised to Brianne Randall-Gay for failing to act on her 2004 complaint to police that Nassar sexually assaulted her at age 17.

Randall-Gay is now a mother and living in the Seattle area.

The officials told a news conference they were sorry they believed Nassar’s claim in 2004 that he massaged her breasts and genitals to medically treat her back pain.

“We let you down, Brianne,” a tearful Walsh said as Randall-Gay, appearing via video feed, dabbed her eyes.

“We knew we had to apologise to the public and to Brianne,” Hall said. “I think I could apologise every day for the rest of my life.”

The officials promised to better respond to victims in the future, working with Randall-Gay to help youth more effectively report crimes. She will be working directly with Sergeant Andrew McCready, who as a young officer in 2004 chose to believe the medical professional over the teenager accusing him of assault.

“This process has been therapeutic for me and letting go of the anger that I had,” Randall-Gay told reporters. “It doesn’t change the fact that hundreds of other women and girls were abused after my report in 2004.”

FILE PHOTO: The boulder known as "the Rock" is seen, on the campus of Michigan State University, painted with the names of victims of Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 in Lansing to sexual assault charges, in East Lansing, Michigan, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

Reporting by Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler

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