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Simone Biles, other gymnasts seek $1B, say FBI didn't protect them

Mark Hicks and Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News (TNS)

DETROIT — Alleging the FBI mishandled its investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, some of gymnastics’ biggest names have filed claims seeking more than $1 billion against the bureau, attorneys announced Wednesday.

Dozens of women, including world-renowned athletes such as Simone Biles, allege they were among those assaulted “due to the FBI’s failure to take required steps to protect them,” their lawyers said in a statement Wednesday.

Along with Biles, the Nassar victims filing the latest claims include Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney as well as NCAA gymnast Maggie Nichols.

They join a group of victims who filed administrative claims under the Federal Tort Claim Act in April.

They claim the bureau did not immediately or properly respond to alleged sexual assaults by Nassar first reported to its Indianapolis office in July 2015.

The attorneys claim Nassar assaulted an estimated 90 young women and children between July 28, 2015, and Sept. 12, 2016.

“In July 2015 the FBI received credible complaints from numerous sources and corroborating evidence of Dr. Larry Nassar’s sexual assaults of young women and children over the course of several years and across the globe,” according to a statement.

FILE - United States gymnasts from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General's report on the FBI's handling of the Larry Nassar investigation on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington. Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and dozens of other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar are seeking more than $1 billion from the FBI for failing to stop the now convicted sports doctor when the agency first received allegations against him, lawyers said Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP, File)

"These FBI officials were then able to immediately end Nassar’s predation. However, the FBI was grossly derelict in their duties by declining to interview gymnasts who were willing to talk about the abuse, failing to transfer the complaint to Lansing Michigan where Nassar was continuing to abuse girls, ignoring its obligation to report child abuse to relevant state and federal agencies and lying to Congress, the media and FBI headquarters about their lack of diligence in investigating the Nassar complaint.”

FBI representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Federal Tort Claim Act, a statute used to secure a 2021 settlement for victims of the 2018 shooting in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.

The victims in that mass shooting reached a $127.5 million settlement with the federal government.

Nassar sexually abused and sexually assaulted dozens of girls and young women while at MSU and with USA Gymnastics.

“The FBI knew that Larry Nassar was a danger to children when his abuse of me was first reported in September of 2015," Nichols said in a statement. "For 421 days, they worked with USA Gymnastics ... to hide this information from the public and allowed Nassar to continue molesting young women and girls. It is time for the FBI to be held accountable."

The victims also include those who testified or spoke out in court about their experiences with Nassar.

“I am in utter disgust that the Department of Justice has no concern for the extent of trauma we have lived with since and every day since," said Arianna Guerrero, who was 13 when seeing Nassar in 2014 at MSU for a gymnastic-related back injury. "There are two responsible FBI agents that are living their everyday life with no accountability, but they have left so many victims with unanswered questions, no justice, and little hope left."

The group is represented by firms including Royal Oak-based Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers.

Megan Bonanni, an attorney with the firm, said the victims are seeking compensation.

“All of those responsible for these failures need to be held accountable,” she told The Detroit News. “There are women who would not have been sexually abused if the FBI had done its job. That is something the FBI needs to take responsibility for.”

Another attorney representing the victims, Mick Grewal, said he was “horrified” that the Department of Justice failed to prosecute the two FBI agents that failed to investigate the Nassar matter when they were alerted in July 2015.

“We need not only accountability but transparency in order for our community to trust law enforcement,” he said.

Attorney Michael Pitt, who also represents some of the claimants, added: "These survivors stand united against the FBI’s arrogance, dishonesty and incompetency which led to this unspeakable miscarriage of justice. Collectively, these survivors make the enduring statement to law enforcement everywhere: respect the rights of our sisters in need, do your duty or suffer the consequences."

An internal investigation by the Justice Department released in July said the FBI made fundamental errors in its handling of cases against Nassar and did not treat the case with the "utmost seriousness" after USA Gymnastics reported the allegations to the FBI's field office in Indianapolis in 2015.

In a congressional hearing in September, FBI director Christopher Wray blasted his own agents who failed to appropriately respond to the complaints and made a promise to the victims that he was committed to "make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here," and that it never happens again.

Wray also said the agency had fired one of the two agents in Indianapolis criticized in the IG report, Michael Langeman. But he said the agency was limited in its ability to go after the other agent, W. Jay Abbott, since he retired from the agency in 2018 amid the internal investigation into how complaints against Nassar were handled.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute Abbott and Langeman in September 2020, according to the IG report.

Last month, federal officials announced the pair will not be charged with a crime.

In October, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, then the newly confirmed assistant attorney general for the department's criminal division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee she would be taking a second look at the FBI's alleged failure to promptly address complaints reported in 2015 against Nassar.

"Now that the Department of Justice has decided not to criminally prosecute the responsible agents, we are more determined than ever to expose the FBI’s failures and demand accountability," former University of Michigan gymnast Samantha Roy said in a statement Wednesday.

The 24-year-old said she was sexually abused by Nassar more than 200 times between 2010 and 2016.

"If the FBI had simply done its job, Nassar would have been stopped before he ever had the chance to abuse hundreds of girls, including me," she said.

MSU police led the criminal investigation and Nassar was charged in November 2016 with sexual assault by then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. He was indicted the next month on federal child pornography charges.

Nassar was sentenced in Ingham and Eaton counties to 40 to 175 years and 40-125 years, respectively, for sexual assault. He also was sentenced to 60 years in prison on the federal child pornography charges.

Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement with hundreds of Nassar's victims in 2018.

USA Gymnastics reached a $380 million settlement with victims last year.

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