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Survivors of abuse by Larry Nassar target FBI for mishandling their case

Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar appears in court for his final sentencing phase in Eaton County Circuit Court on February 5, 2018 in Charlotte, Michigan.
RENA LAVERTY
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AFP via Getty Images
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar appears in court for his final sentencing phase in Eaton County Circuit Court on February 5, 2018 in Charlotte, Michigan.

Updated April 21, 2022 at 5:42 PM ET

Lawyers for 13 girls and women who survived sexual abuse by former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar have notified the FBI they intend to sue over its failure to act on reports of his misconduct.

"They left us at the disposal of a predator," said Grace French, a survivor and advocate who is part of the process.

French and others argue that the FBI was on notice by the summer of 2015 that Nassar had engaged in widespread and ongoing sexual assaults, under the guise of medical treatment. But, they said, the Bureau failed to take steps to halt the abuse or notify other law enforcement agencies that might have had jurisdiction.

"They turned a blind eye," said attorney Antoinette Frazho, which "led to this monster continuing to sexually assault women and children for 16 more months....They were careless, reckless and grossly negligent."

Under a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act, plaintiffs are required to file administrative complaints with the U.S. government. If the federal government fails to act after six months, those plaintiffs can proceed with a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages.

Jamie White, another attorney involved in the case, said it's unusual to go after a federal agency for failure to act, but said he saw close parallels in a recent $127 million settlement involving the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

Survivors and family members in that case sued the FBI after it failed to act on tips that the shooter had a propensity for violence. Seventeen people were killed and 17 more were injured in what became the deadliest school shooting in the United States.

The FBI had no immediate comment on the new claims. But last September, in testimony before the U.S. Senate, Director Christopher Wray apologized to Nassar's victims, who included world class gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols. He called the FBI's failure "inexcusable."

"It never should have happened," Wray said. "And we're doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again."

US gymnasts (L-R) Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar investigation of sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts, on Capitol Hill, September 15, 2021
Pool / Getty Images
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Getty Images
US gymnasts (L-R) Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar investigation of sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts, on Capitol Hill, September 15, 2021

One FBI official involved in the case retired before he could face internal discipline. Another was fired.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz detailed the bureau's failings in a blockbuster report last summer. A bipartisan group of senators said Horowitz "painted a shocking picture of the FBI's dereliction of duty in this case, including its failure to take basic investigative steps or notify state or local law enforcement of the continued threat Nassar posed."

The inspector general concluded that the former FBI agents had misled investigators but said prosecution against them had been declined.

But citing new facts, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said officials in Washington were reviewing that decision. "Survivors who come forward to report abuse must be met with competent and compassionate professionals who have the resources, training and institutional support to do their jobs," Monaco told the Senate Judiciary Committee last October.

No public action has occurred since her testimony.

Last month, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, wrote the Attorney General to demand more action and accountability.

John Manly, an attorney for Biles, Raisman and several other survivors, said he's continuing to investigate. He said his clients are frustrated with the Justice Department, under both Trump and Biden.

"The Justice Department has not made this a priority," Manly said. "They obviously don't care that FBI agents...lied to hide one of the worst pedophiles in American history."

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