A former Michigan State University women’s gymnastics coach has been charged with lying to investigators about now-disgraced physician Larry Nassar’s rampant sexual abuse.
Witnesses have said they reported abuse by Nassar, an ex-MSU staff member, to coach Kathie Klages more than 20 years ago, but she denied having any knowledge of his sexual misconduct before 2016, when asked by Michigan State Police detectives, according to a press release by the state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette.
A warrant was issued on Thursday for two counts of lying to a peace officer in her case, Schuette’s office said.
Nassar survivor Lindsey Lemke told The Daily Beast on Thursday that Klages defended Nassar in 2016, when she told the head coach about her own abuse experiences with Nassar. Klages even tried to dissuade Lemke’s family from reporting it to the authorities, the now-22-year-old said.
“I believe at the time she was trying to manipulate me into second-guessing myself, but I knew what Larry had done was wrong,” Lemke said. “I thought I was doing the right thing by letting her know we were going to go to the police. My family and I were trying to make things easier for her, and she was like, ‘Do your research. If you say anything to police, it’s going to hurt his reputation.’”
“She was trying to protect herself,” Lemke continued. “Even back then she knew what she did was wrong.”
Lemke was just 12 years old when she first met Nassar, who treated her more than three times a week for three years. During those sessions, Nassar often inserted his ungloved fingers into her vagina. It happened at least 500 times, she has said. She met him again when she transferred to MSU.
After Nassar was first publicly accused of molesting his former patients, in 2016, Klages even allegedly asked Lemke and her fellow athletes to sign a card for him.
“She said, ‘You don’t have to sign this if you don’t want to, but it’s for Larry and it would be appreciated if we could let him know that we’re thinking about him,’” she said.
Special Independent Counsel Bill Forsyth said on Thursday that the investigation into the university’s handling of the misconduct is still ongoing, and officials have interviewed more than 500 people so far. Those interviews include possible victims, as well as “MSU faculty and staff, coaches, and members of the community,” the press release states.
The Detroit News reports that Klages was among the first MSU staff members to step down after gymnasts filed lawsuits against the school.
In response—despite the coach’s legal duty to report it to authorities—Klages allegedly “interrogated” the girls and said they misunderstood what Nassar had done, Boyce said.
“I told somebody,” Boyce said in January. “Instead of being protected, I was humiliated and told that I was the problem.”
Even after two years of law enforcement and independent investigations, convictions and sentencing hearings, Lemke says it’s still reassuring to see another person who protected Nassar charged.
“Had she done the right thing, I would have never had to meet Larry,” Lemke told The Daily Beast. “Had she listened to Larissa, I would have never been abused by Larry. It’s been life-changing, not only for me but for my family. I would never ever wish upon anybody the things that I’ve been through.”
“For all the people who told me I was a liar and I was disgusting and a disgrace, it’s nice to know that the truth comes out. Finally, someone is being held accountable,” she added. “It’s a relief.”
Previous lawyers for Klages have denied that the coach had prior knowledge of Nassar’s abuse.
“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,” a lawyer for Klages told NBC News.
Requests for comment from Klages were not immediately returned to The Daily Beast on Thursday.
Just last week, two more survivors—Olympic gold medalists Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian—came forward to allege assault by Nassar, who also worked as a USA Gymnastics team physician. Nassar was sentenced earlier this year to a maximum of 235 years in prison for his rampant abuse and possession of child pornography.
The women decided to come forward with their stories just months after watching nearly 200 girls and women read emotional and powerful victim-impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing hearings in January. The 54-year-old Nassar faced his survivors at the hearings, and now at least 300 victims have come forward to accuse the doctor, who preyed on student-athletes for decades.
More than 150 plaintiffs are now suing Nassar and his former employers, including USA Gymnastics and MSU, in civil lawsuits.
The Daily Beast reported in March that the former dean of Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel—who also worked as Nassar’s boss during his tenure–was the first staff member to be criminally charged in the case.
Strampel was charged with misconduct in office, criminal sexual conduct, and willful neglect of duty after officials say he used his post to proposition, harass and assault women at the school.