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Former Michigan State gymnastics coach on trial for lying during Nassar investigation

 Multiple witnesses took the stand on Tuesday, including Nassar victims who wanted to remain anonymous. (Source WILX)
Multiple witnesses took the stand on Tuesday, including Nassar victims who wanted to remain anonymous. (Source WILX) (WILX)
Published: Feb. 11, 2020 at 12:07 PM EST
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The trial for the former MSU gymnastics coach who is charged with lying to investigators in connection with sexual assault complaints against sports doctor Larry Nassar started on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

She's charged with one felony count and one misdemeanor of lying to police during the state Attorney General's investigation.

If convicted, she faces up to four years in prison.

Multiple witnesses took the stand on Tuesday, including Nassar victims who wanted to remain anonymous.

Some of the women had told Klages about the abuse, others were afraid to.

One victim said that she didn't want to get in trouble by saying anything about the abuse.

Another said that she told Klages and was embarrassed because her trusted coach turned and asked other gymnasts if they were being abused.

And other woman said she reported the abuse by Nassar to Klages "about a dozen times."

Before the court broke for lunch, a MSU police detective took the stand and said that Klages was interviewed by the police in 2016 and 2017.

Klages is accused of lying when she denied being told of Nassar's sexual misconduct before 2016.

In 2017, a woman coached by Klages reported that Klages downplayed her concerns about treatments by Nassar in the late 1990s, and warned her that a formal complaint about sexual abuse could have major consequences.

The woman wanted to join more than 20 females, who at that time, were suing Dr. Larry Nassar, MSU's former sports doctor.

They said they were assaulted under the guise of treatment.

The woman said that Kathie Klages was her coach when she was a teen in a Michigan State youth program and that Klages told her to see Nassar about back pain.

The woman says Nassar repeatedly molested her and she says Klages told her she couldn't imagine anything questionable.

The woman, referred to as "Jane GMSU Doe," says Nassar performed what he called "spinal evaluations" that involved digital penetration of her vagina and anus. She saw him from 1999 to 2004. She says Nassar tried to engage her in inappropriate sexual dialogue and appeared to be grunting and breathing heavily while he examined her. She also says Nassar would look her in the eye, ask her if she felt better and hug her afterward.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, "Jane IMSU Doe," was a participant in the Spartan Youth Gymnastic Program when she started seeing Nassar for back pain in 1997. She says he would make her "feel special" by offering hugs prior to treatment but also tried to engage her in sexually explicit conversations, asking if she had a boyfriend and how far they went in terms of sexual activity. She says Nassar appeared to be aroused and made grunting noises while digitally penetrating her. She says on at least on occasion she refused treatment only for Nassar to hold her down and penetrate her against her will.

Jane IMSU Doe says Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages asked her if Nassar had penetrated her during procedures and then told her there was no reason to bring up Nassar's conduct.

At least one other plaintiff has said Klages defended Nassar when she reported what happened during her treatment sessions.

Michigan State suspended Klages on February 13, 2017, but did not say if it had anything to do with the Nassar investigation.

Larry Nassar worked in Mid-Michigan for more than 20 years and had access to hundreds of young athletes at USA Gymnastics events, Twistars Gymnastics Club and Michigan State University.

People in the Mid-Michigan gymnastics community are a tight-knit group. So tight, the mother of a gymnast says Larry Nassar was a personal friend.

She says he would treat her young daughter's back injuries at his Holt home. News 10 is not identifying her, to protect her daughter's identity. "She would go around 9 o'clock at night and be there sometimes until 11:30, 12 o'clock. I mean there were even times when we would text her and say when are you coming home, you know it's getting late."

It may look like a red flag now, but the previous September, when the accusations of sexual abuse first came out, this mother was one of many defending Nassar. "Never in a million years. If you knew Larry you would have never thought, ever that he was doing anything remotely close to this."

Until December 2016, when Nassar was arrested on child pornography charges. Investigators say they found hard drives containing more than 37,000 images of porn, thrown in the trash outside his home. The tide began to turn and this friend started doubting the doctor and asking questions.

Weeks later, in early January, her daughter, an MSU gymnast told her what she didn't want to hear, Nassar used his bare hands to penetrate her during an exam. "When she came out and told us, 'Yes. He did it to me every time I went there, which we're estimating was like over 500 times. That's a lot. I was glad that she had finally told us, but at the same time, I was like so angry and I felt so betrayed by Larry. We just felt fooled."

That night - she says she nervously called MSU's gymnastics coach Kathie Klages. "I told her what was going on and she was like, 'No. Larry would never ever do that. She's just misreading what Larry was doing.' So then the next day she pulled my daughter into her office and told her the same thing. She was misreading what Larry was doing.

News 10's Ann Emmerich asked the mother: "So what was she saying he was doing?" Mother: "She thinks this is a legal medical procedure."

The conversation with the coach then turned to Nassar's arrest for child pornography. "She said, ''Well that could have been planted.' and I'm like, 'Kathie, who would have planted that?' I mean literally I said it just like that, she said, 'Somebody that's suing him.'

Her daughter, who earned a full-ride gymnastics scholarship to MSU was among those that sued Nassar and the university.

After Klages was suspended in February, Mike Rowe took over the program as Head Coach on a full-time basis.

A day after being suspended, she resigned from MSU.

When Michigan State University suspended Klages they would not say why and the next day, two statements were released within an hour of each other. The first from a lawyer representing Kages announcing her client's retirement from MSU, effective immediately. The second was a letter from then-athletic director Mark Hollis, sent to Klages, explaining why the university suspended her the day before for defending Nassar.

All this came the same day a former Spartan youth gymnast joined a federal lawsuit, claiming 20 years ago Klages discouraged her from reporting that Nassar sexually assaulted her.

The woman's lawyer David Mittleman says during one exam Nassar held her down and forced himself on her despite her protests. He says when his client told Klages about the abuse her coach said there was no reason to bring it up.

"They told the adult in the room what was going on and she was betrayed," Mittleman said.

Mittleman is representing another woman, who was a former MSU gymnast, who filed a lawsuit two weeks ago claiming Klages ignored her sexual abuse complaints against former Nassar.

According to Shirlee Bobryk, the lawyer representing Klages, her client is distressed by these accusations writing, "Dr. Nassar was trusted by Ms. Klages to competently and ethically treat her team member(s). Had she ever received information to cast doubt on the appropriateness of that trust in Dr. Nassar she would have reacted immediately."

As for Hollis, he didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing beyond a meeting Klages held with her team in September of 2016, when allegations against Nassar were first made public.

According to the letter Hollis sent Klages, many students said they left the meeting with mixed messages, especially since their coach defended Nassar.

A mother whose daughter said she was sexually abused by Nassar, told News 10 about the meeting. "She sat all the girls down and told them that this was going on with Larry and that they were told not to speak to anybody about it including media. They were told not even their families."

Klages' legal counsel released the following statement (Feb. 15, 2017):

"Like many others, MSU Gymnastics Coach, Kathie Klages, is deeply disturbed by the recent allegations and lawsuits brought against Dr. Larry Nassar, Michigan State University, and others. Although she is not a named defendant in any lawsuit, she is extremely distressed by the accusations that have been made about her creating any sort of impediment to gymnasts reporting complaints of criminal sexual conduct or sexually inappropriate behavior.

Kathie Klages has proudly coached MSU gymnastics for 27 years. The MSU gymnastics team members and coaching staff have been her top priority for her entire career. She would never do anything to put any of them in harm’s way. Dr. Nassar was trusted by Ms. Klages to competently and ethically treat her team members. Had she ever received any information to cast doubt on the appropriateness of that trust in Dr. Nassar, she would have reacted immediately to protect her gymnasts.

Ms. Klages has and will continue to cooperate fully in all ongoing investigations and lawsuits. At the advice of legal counsel, she will not comment further on the specific allegations of the complaints so as not to interfere with the legal process. However, Ms. Klages looks forward to being able to testify under oath and fully answer all questions that relate to any involvement she is alleged to have had in the situation.

The underlying accusations involving Ms. Klages have been a serious distraction to her professional responsibilities and detrimental to her overall well-being. Her recent suspension as head coach is a consequence of that. Out of respect to the University and the gymnastics program in particular, Ms. Klages believes it is in everyone’s best interests for her to retire from her current position at MSU. She has the utmost confidence in Mike Rowe’s ability to serve as interim head coach of the gymnastics team."

The letter from Mark Hollis is as follows:

"I write to follow up on the meeting we had yesterday morning to discuss the University's review of allegations that members of the women's gymnastics team were discouraged from cooperating with the ongoing law enforcement investigation of Dr. Nasser. The allegations appear to relate primarily to a meeting held with the gymnastics team on September 12, 2016. We understand the purpose of the meeting was to inform the student-athletes of the breaking news story regarding Dr. Nassar, provide advice on responding to media inquiries, and offer any necessary support and resources. Interviews with student-athletes, coaching staff (including you), and other athletic department staff confirm that the focus of the meeting was on communications with the media, not law enforcement.

Those interviews also confirm that at the conclusion of the meeting you shared with the team your highly emotional sense of shock regarding the allegations against Dr. Nassar. That resulted in several student-athletes leaving the meeting feeling that they had received mixed messages. Others felt confused about who they could or should speak with about the situation. While I acknowledge you provided student-athletes with information about reporting to the Office of Institutional Equity, your passionate defense of Dr. Nassar created an emotionally charged environment for the team. That has not abated and my concerns led me to suspend you with pay.

You have since notified me that after thoughtful consideration of all the circumstances, you intend to retire from your coaching position effective immediately. You have also assured me that you will continue to cooperate."

Klages was charged on August 23, 2018 with lying to an investigator.

A charging document didn't specify how many witnesses allegedly reported Nassar to Kathie Ann Klages, or when they did so.

The charges made her the third person, other than Nassar, to face criminal charges related to his serial molestation of young female athletes under the guise of treatment.

The warrant alleges that after being informed by special agent David Dwyre that he was conducting a criminal investigation, Klages knowingly and willfully made false and misleading statements to him.

If convicted of lying, Klages could face up to four years in prison.

Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Klages declined to comment on the charges.

"MSU is committed to implementing changes for the fall semester that enhance prevention and education programming and establish new safety measures as well as increase resources and support for survivors of sexual assault," she said.

At that time, special independent counsel Bill Forsyth, who was appointed by Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate Michigan State's handling of Nassar, announced the charges. He said in a news release that witnesses have said they reported Nassar's sexual abuse to Klages dating back more than 20 years ago.

Hundreds of girls and women have said Nassar molested them when he was a physician, including while he worked at Michigan State and Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains U.S. Olympians.

In August of 2017, News 10 confirmed that Kathie Klages was working at Twistars, filling in during an employee's absence.

Some people involved in the Nassar case were outraged to hear about that situation.

"It sends a message to the victims and it's a huge slap in their face as far as Mr. Geddert is concerned," said Jamie White, an attorney representing several of Nassar's accusers. "Regardless of Ms. Klages' ultimate finding of guilt or innocence or involvement in this matter, to bring her back into an institution filled with kids where she's being accused of covering up or not reporting abuse of minors over the course of 20 years is very frightening."

In August 2018, Klages was banned from USA Gymnastics, she was added to USAG's 'Permanently Ineligible Members' list less than one week after she was charged with two counts of lying to investigators about when she was told of Larry Nassar's abuse.

USAG says Klages violated "SafeSport Code for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, III.A.4, Bylaw 10.14(b)", which states "It is a violation of the Code for a Covered Individual to be convicted of or subject to a Criminal Disposition for a crime involving (a) any form of sexual misconduct or (b) a Minor."

Her appearances in court started in August 2018, and in September '18, she was bound over to trial. Since then, she has been in and out of court awaiting her trial, which is now underway in Ingham County court with Judge Joyce Draganchuk.

Copyright 2020 WILX and Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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