Nessel's office offers tip line to victims of Catholic Clergy abuse

Photo courtesy: MGN
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - The Flint Water Crisis, the MSU Nassar investigation, and the investigation into Catholic clergy abuse were the topics at the attorney general's first press conference on Thursday.

Attorney General Dana Nessel talked to the media, introduced her team, and her role in those major cases, as well as giving updates on the cases themselves.

She started her press conference by jokingly saying that this would be the first and last press conference of her term.

She then acknowledged that Attorney General updates are usually at the end of a case, once it's wrapped up, but said that Thursday's comments are mid-investigation on these cases because she felt people needed an update.

She introduced Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and State Police Col. Joe Gasper, who are overseeing important cases.

“All three of these investigations began under my predecessor and have never stopped,” Nessel said. “Our work is not yet done and I want to remind the people of this state we will continue to seek the truth and provide justice for all affected by these tragedies.”

FLINT WATER CRISIS

Nessel said that she is hoping to resolve and provide justice to the people of Flint.

She said she was challenged to bring in a new team for the criminal investigation of the Flint Water Crisis. She named Hammoud to lead the criminal side of the 8 cases as the lead attorney. Nessel would work the civil side with 79 cases.

She also announced that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and her office will be working in tandem with Hammoud to assist in investigating and prosecute the Flint criminal cases.

Hammoud said, "the people of Flint were wronged." She added that they will let the evidence guide their work and that, "no one is above the law."

“As the lead on the Flint Water Crisis criminal prosecutions, I am especially proud to be representing the people of Flint,” Hammoud said. “These cases are about the people of Flint, and they rightfully should be led by the people’s law firm. I am grateful to Attorney General Nessel for her thoughtful vision and leadership, and I believe she has positioned our teams well to see to it that justice is realized.”

During the question and answer segment, reporters did ask if she would go after former Governor Rick Snyder. She said that they haven't ruled that out but have not reached out to him yet.

She said her team will be reviewing all of the evidence and will evaluate and look at every person charged or that hasn't been charged.

MSU NASSAR INVESTIGATION

Nessel began the update on the MSU Nassar Investigation by stating that three individuals have been charged with crimes and have court dates pending. She was talking about former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, and former College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel.

She added that on Wednesday, Feb. 20, that in accordance with LARA, they served two athletic trainers from MSU, who allegedly lied to investigators about their knowledge of complaints from athletes regarding Larry Nassar.

Investigators say Destiny Treachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden lied when they claim no students had ever made them aware of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse.

Nessel also made mention that the MSU Board of Trustees asked the Attorney General's office to handle the investigation into Nassar and MSU, however, she said that "the trustees have made work of our partnership extremely difficult."

She added that her team has spoken to John Engler's attorney, to set up an interview with Engler. He served as the Interim President for MSU for about 12 months.

Nessel also pointed out that the AG's office will be looking into the alleged payout that former Board of Trustees member, George Perles, took to leave the board.

The state requested, has received and is reviewing documents related to former MSU trustee Perles and the alleged forgiveness of his financial commitment in exchange for resigning from the board before the end of 2018.

Nessel also broke down the number of documents that the state has been able to review from Michigan State regarding the Nassar scandal. She said of the 7000 documents requested that MSU either refused or disclosed redacted papers to the state, totaling only 1000 of the docs.

They did take MSU to court over these documents, and East Lansing District Court Judge Richard Ball reviewed what MSU called, privileged documents, related to the AG’s investigation.

Based on that review, it does not appear the Attorney General’s office will be getting any additional documents and MSU will be allowed to redact or withhold more than 6,000 documents from the AG’s investigation team.

Nessel said, it's time for MSU to do the right thing. She said that she's hopeful MSU and the new board members will cooperate with the Attorney General's office.

She urged the Board of Trustees to review the 6000 pages and see if there's something that the public should know and share that with her office.

New information involving the Nassar investigation was that Nessel’s office is taking on the investigation of gymnastics coach John Geddert.

Geddert founded Twistars, the gymnastics training center where Larry Nassar assaulted many of his victims.

STATEMENT FROM THE VICTIMS' ATTORNEY

“After more than two years of inaction by local prosecutors, we are pleased to see the criminal investigation of John Geddert move forward under the leadership of Attorney General Nessel," said John Manly, attorney for the majority of the Nassar survivors. "Geddert was a close associate of Nassar’s for decades. Many of our clients reported abuse by Nassar at Geddert’s gym, and also alleged physical and emotional abuse by Geddert as a coach. It is our expectation that the Attorney General’s investigation will be thorough and will hold Geddert accountable if any criminal conduct is uncovered. It is also our hope that this action will encourage State and Federal law-enforcement agencies to open serious investigations into USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee for their roles in the Nassar scandal,” said Manly.

In addition, Danielle Hagaman-Clark, one of the state’s most prominent career sexual assault prosecutors, has been hired to lead the Geddert investigation.

Hagaman-Clark will also be part of the investigative team working on the MSU and Catholic Church clergy abuse investigations.

CATHOLIC CLERGY ABUSE

Nessel's office reminded the public about the seven simultaneous raids made on seven Michigan Catholic dioceses in October of 2018.

The seven Michigan dioceses were in Detroit, Saginaw, Lansing, Marquette, Gaylord, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Search warrants were issued by 70 officers and special agents along with 14 attorney generals.

They seized hundreds of thousands of pages of documents including procedures for investigations by the church.

They sent letters to churches to inform their parishioners of the investigation and solicit tips. Over 300 tips have come in through the tip line: 844-324-3374 or victims can also go to mich.gov/clergyabuse.

The Attorney General’s office has asked the dioceses to stop their own internal review process until the state’s investigation is complete, and urged victims to report any suspected abuse to law enforcement officers rather than church officials.

"If an investigator comes to the door to speak to you," Attorney General Nessel said, "ask to see their badge not their rosary."

She said that victims will be approached by members of the church who are "self-policing" and then signing a non-disclosure agreement with the church because they believe that the church is handling it.

She added, "There are predators in priesthood and we feel they have to be stopped."

Nessel also challenged the dioceses to set up a fund for victims to be administered by the Attorney General’s office so that victims may get the help needed for the trauma they experienced.

Colonel Joe Gasper of the Michigan State Police took questions from the media and said, "“These investigations are complex and complicated, but we are committed to uncovering the truth and seeking justice for all the victims.”

“We take all leads and tips seriously, and I encourage anyone with information about these cases to contact law enforcement directly.”

Nessel added that she hopes the media covers cases like the clergy abuse case, because she wants the public and possible victims to know that there is help available.

She said to the media, "be an active participate and assist us with that."

Gasper also said that as far as the statue of limitations goes with the clergy abuse case that if you are a survivor that was abused, don't put a time limit on it. "You could still help other cases," he added.

WATCH the press conference with the link below.


Flint city water treatment plant, Photo Date: Feb 3, 2016 / Photo: Americans LeDuff / Youtube / MGN