DETROIT (AP) — State prosecutors lost their bid to reinstate charges against the former president of Michigan State University who was accused of lying to investigators in 2018 when they tried to learn what she knew years earlier about sexual assault complaints involving Larry Nassar.
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by an Eaton County judge to dismiss the case against Lou Anna Simon. In a 3-0 opinion Tuesday, the court agreed that there was insufficient evidence to send her to trial.
Elizabeth Gleicher, the court’s next chief judge, severely criticized prosecutors for even pursuing the case.
“The historical background supports that the goal was to exact retribution for MSU’s failure to stop Nassar rather than to pursue justice for criminal wrongdoing,” Gleicher said in a separate 14-page opinion. “Dr. Simon was one of the scapegoats selected to justify that effort.”
It was the second major Nassar-related decision this week from the same three-judge panel at the appeals court, which also overturned the conviction of former Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in a 2-1 opinion.
Nassar, who was a campus sports doctor as well as a doctor for USA Gymnastics, is serving a decades long prison sentence. Hundreds of women and girls, mostly gymnasts, said he molested them during visits for hip, back and leg injuries.
Gleicher said “there can be no debate” that Michigan State “grossly mishandled” complaints about Nassar long before Simon became president. But she questioned why the attorney general’s office, first under Bill Schuette and now Dana Nessel, would investigate MSU after Nassar was locked up.
The charges against Simon centered on a 2018 interview with investigators who said they wanted to know what officials at the East Lansing school knew about Nassar.
Authorities alleged that Simon knew in 2014 that Nassar had been accused of molesting a patient at a campus clinic, and that she knew of the nature of the complaint.
But Simon insisted that she was aware only that a complaint had been filed against a sports doctor. She told investigators she didn’t learn anything specific about Nassar until 2016.
Gleicher said the prosecution was “designed to punish and humiliate Dr. Simon for the sins of MSU, not to provide justice for Nassar’s victims or to vindicate the legitimate purposes of the law penalizing those who lie to the police.”
The attorney general’s office said it was considering whether to ask the state Supreme Court to take the case. The court could decline.
“The department followed the evidence where it led. Any claim otherwise is unfounded,” spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said Wednesday.
Simon quit as president in January 2018, hours after Nassar was sentenced to prison following days of wrenching testimony from his victims.
The scandal was a disaster for Michigan State. It agreed to pay $500 million to victims. Separately, the U.S. Education Department ordered the school to make sweeping changes and pay a $4.5 million penalty.