A former dean at Michigan State University was found guilty Wednesday of misconduct in office and willfully neglecting his oversight of doctor-turned-convicted sex abuser Larry Nassar.
William Strampel, the 71-year-old former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was also found not guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Prosecutors had alleged Strampel “abused his power” while in office and often made explicit comments to female medical students and “sexually propositioned” at least two, whom he allegedly touched.
"Today’s verdict sends a clear message: It’s time to change the culture in our schools and medical communities so that our female students and doctors receive the same treatment and respect as their male counterparts, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement following the verdict. “Public officers who brandish their power to demean, insult, harass, objectify, and abuse female students will be held accountable.”
Strampel, who chose not to testify in his own defense, now faces as much as 15 years in prison. He is the first person to be charged by the attorney general’s office in its investigation against Michigan State University and Larry Nasser, who was convicted in three separate criminal trials and accused of molesting at least 250 underage girls and one young man, including several well-known Olympic gymnasts.
Prosecutors allege Strampel, who served as the medical school’s dean for two decades, had “absolute power and control” over female students, and often took advantage of his role by making “sexually explicit” comments during professional meetings. Strampel’s behavior toward female students was said to be so “disturbing” that three female students brought their fathers with them to meetings, and one alleged victim even recorded her meeting with Strampel for future evidence.
“We know why these women didn’t report,” Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark said last week. “They were scared about the defendant’s ability to control their careers. He is standing between them and their dream of becoming a doctor.”
During the eight-day trial, multiple former female students testified on the sexual comments Strampel made during one-on-one meetings about their academic growth, including talking about sending nude photographs and asking how many of their peers are virgins.
The former dean’s defense attorney, John Dakmak, argued his client, who served in the U.S. Army and was known for his “gruff” demeanor, only sought to provide professional guidance to his medical-school community. Any testimony that implies misconduct, Dakmak said, is just “locker room talk.”
“All we’re left with is locker-room talk, is bawdy talk, is ribald talk, [which] may be offensive to some people, maybe not to others, not politically correct talk,” he said Tuesday. "Don’t take shock and awe and boggle that up with criminal intent, with criminality. Don’t make something that may disturb you to hear in this room and say that equals a crime.”
Dr. Jessica Neuroth, an MSU graduate and one of Strampel’s victims, testified last week the former dean grabbed her rear end “and held it very tightly” while taking photos during a scholarship dinner.
“I froze. I was thinking, I can’t believe this is happening,” she said, adding she never reported the incident because of Strampel’s previous threats. “He had already told me that he held my entire future in his hands, so I felt I could not actually confront him on what he did to me.
Alison Perkins, a physician’s assistant in North Carolina, testified she was one of two women used as clinical-skills models that Strampel sexually assaulted.
"For what medical purpose is he sticking his fingers in her vagina?" Hagaman-Clark said in her closing argument.
Perkins testified she first contacted Strampel in 2007 for admissions advice into MSU after getting a low exam score for medical school as an undergraduate. Instead of advice, she ended up as model patient for medical students. During an initial examination with the former dean privately, Perkins said Strampel made comments about her breasts and pubic hair, before putting his fingers inside her vagina while maintaining direct eye contact.
“I remember that he looked at me and our eyes met and I was very uncomfortable with it, and I didn’t know at the time why,” Perkins said, adding that Strampel paid her in cash, between $100-120 for each session.
Prosecutors alleged Strampel also allegedly failed to ensure Nassar followed examining-room restrictions after a 2014 sexual-misconduct complaint, prosecutors said.
“He had a duty to supervise Nassar and he did nothing to fulfill that duty," Hagaman-Clark said.
Dakmak argued that a school investigation into that complaint cleared Nassar, and there is evidence proving Strampel knowingly neglected to restrict the convicted doctor.
Nassar, who also worked as a USA Gymnastics coach, was fired in 2016 after hundreds of sexual-assault allegations.