USA GYMNASTICS

Department of Justice finds “errors” in the FBI handling of the abuse investigation of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar 

The long-awaited report from the Department of Justice on the Larry Nassar abuse scandal has been released, and the findings are unnerving.

Department of Justice finds “errors” in the FBI handling of the abuse investigation of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar 
BRENDAN MCDERMID REUTERS

On 14 July, the Department of Justice released its report on how the FBI handled the investigation into U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. After egregious errors that occurred early in the investigation, the FBI found that Nasser “had engaged in sexual assaults of over 100 victims and possessed thousands of images of child pornography.”

In 2017 Nassar, 57, pled guilty to child pornography charges, landing him a sixty-year prison sentence. In 2018, two Michigan courts handed down additional jail time for each case of sexual assault of a minor with a sentence between forty and one hundred and seventy-five years.

The story became national news after high-profile members of the U.S.A. Gymnastics team came forward with their accusation. Many of the victims blame U.S.A. Gymnastics, the federation that selects and provides training to gymnasts that form part of the national team, for silencing athletes rather than protecting them after they had learned of the abuse. 

One of the victims, Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles, has called for an independent investigation of how the organization handled the abuse allegations, calling it the “right thing to do.

More than two hundred gymnasts have sued U.S.A. Gymnastics, but many have yet to be settled after the organization filed for bankruptcy in 2018. 

What did the report find?

When the truth about Nassar came out, so did the fact that his abuse had been going on for more than a decade, prompting an investigation into what law enforcement missed.

Investigators at the Department of Justice (DoJ) stated that senior FBI officials at the Indianapolis and Los Angles Field Office “failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required.

Additionally, the report outlines that “fundamental errors” were made by officials who neglected to notify other FBI offices where crimes were being committed. These missteps left victims, many of whom were minors, vulnerable “ongoing threat posed by Nassar.”

The FBI first received reports of abuse allegations in July 2015. However, FBI officials in Michigan, working out of the Lansing Resident Agency, did not learn about the investigations at the Indianapolis or Los Angles office until “Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) executed a search warrant on Nassar’s residence in September 2016.” The search warrant was not made by FBI officials. Rather it came from “MSUPD’s receipt of separate complaints of sexual abuse by Nassar.”

More than a year passed between the FBI learning of the allegations and the search warrant, which uncovered that Nassar was in possession of child pornography. During that fifteen-month gap,  Nassar “continued to treat gymnasts at Michigan State University, a high school in Michigan, and a gymnastics club in Michigan.”

Once the abuse scandal was made public, the Indianapolis, and to a lesser extent the Los Angles Field Offices, came under scrutiny because they had taken no responsibility for their actions and the danger they subjected the gymnasts to.

Cover up of inaction by Indianapolis Field Office

The report also outlines the ways leaders of the Indianapolis Field Office tried to cover up inaction when they first learned of the accusations. In 2017 and 2018, when an investigation into the field office began, the DoJ found that multiple members made false statements when being questioned by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General. This included the FBI Special Agent in Charge, W. Jay Abbott, who provided a false statement to “minimize the errors” of the agents serving under him.

Additionally, the DoJ found that they had altered evidence, including a “gymnast interview summary that the Indianapolis SSA drafted in February 2017, 17 months after the interview took place, contained materially false statements and omitted material information.