University of Michigan leaders said Friday that they plan to stay the course with their own investigation into allegations a deceased team doctor molested hundreds of people going back decades, declining the state attorney general's offer to get involved and angering lawyers for the accusers, who described the school's stance as shameful.
In response to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel saying Thursday she would investigate the claims against Dr. Robert E. Anderson and how the school dealt with them, but only if the school fully cooperates, the university released a statement Friday from its president, Mark Schlissel, and eight-member board of regents.
“We have met with, and sought counsel from, survivors, doctors and mental health experts and believe we are overseeing a process that will ultimately serve as the best course of action for the survivors and University community,” the school said.
The response didn't mention Nessel, but lawyers for some of Anderson's accusers wasted no time in offering their take on what the school was saying.
“The attorney general was very specific: Will you be transparent? Clearly, the answer this morning is, `No, we won't,'" John Manly, an attorney for more than 50 accusers, told The Associated Press.
Asked later whether the university would waive attorney-client privilege for a Nessel investigation, which she said would be a prerequisite for her getting involved, school spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said: “Right now, we are focused on ensuring a thorough and independent investigation with an external firm. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on what we might do going forward."
Nessel said she would welcome a request from the university to investigate, but she first asked for a commitment to waive attorney-client privilege and to turn over documents, explaining she didn't want “half-truths.” She also said the Legislature should commit to funding an investigation.
The attorney general's investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar at Michigan State University led to charges against three former school officials despite a court battle over documents. Nessel, though, does not appear to be interested in moving forward with a probe without Michigan's cooperation.
“The last thing we want to do is give people false hope that we're going to be able to truly explain exactly what it is that occurred when we know there's no way that we'll be able to do that if the university is not going to cooperate with an investigation," Nessel said. “We just can't.”
When asked for a reaction to Michigan's response on Friday, a spokeswoman for Nessel said the office of the attorney general stands by her previous statement.
“We have learned our lesson from our MSU experience," spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.
Michigan State agreed nearly two years ago to pay $500 million to settle claims from more than 300 women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar, a former sports doctor who pleaded guilty to a raft of charges and is serving sentences that will likely keep him locked up for life.
An attorney general's office investigation into Nassar and Michigan State, which began under Nessel's predecessor, has been at an impasse. The attorney general and the East Lansing school are still discussing issues relating to attorney-client privilege, more than 6,000 documents, and an interview with former interim president John Engler, who took over following Lou Anna Simon’s resignation.
Manly said Michigan's decision to stick with its plans will force him to fight for his clients.
“We’re going to fight in the Legislature," Manly said. “We’re going to fight in the media. And, we’re going to fight in the courts. You don't get to do what this institution did and come out with thoughts and prayers and we feel your pain. No one is buying it."
Attorney Mike Cox, who has filed lawsuits against the University of Michigan alleging Anderson abused his clients, said the school's latest statement was shameful.
“Attorney General Nessel gave the University of Michigan the opportunity to show that they are the leaders and the best," Cox, a former state attorney general, said in a phone interview on Friday after filing his 14th lawsuit related to Anderson's alleged abuse. “Instead of being transparent and open to the public — and especially the men and perhaps women who've been victimized by Dr. Anderson — they have chosen to lawyer up like they're members of the mob."
Following a second meeting with the school’s vice president and general counsel earlier this week, attorney Parker Stinar publicly called on Nessel to investigate Anderson's conduct and how Michigan handled decades of allegations against him.
“The university has an obligation to its students, alumni and public to uncover decades upon decades of institutional cover-ups," Stinar told the AP. “The board of regents’ failure to allow the attorney general to conduct a full and complete investigation suggest the current administration is hiding something, too."
Numerous men have alleged Anderson sexually assaulted them while they were members of the football, hockey and wrestling teams. The Ann Arbor school revealed last month it was investigating multiple allegations of abuse against Anderson, who died in 2008. Last week, the school said it had received more than 100 complaints.
“We recognize that trust in the University has been broken," the school said in its latest statement. ”As leaders, we understand the tremendous importance of integrity, and we will strive to always uphold the public’s trust in our University."
The revelations at Michigan echo other high-profile allegations and investigations of sexual abuse made by patients of sports doctors at other universities, including Michigan State University, Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota. Ohio State said Friday it had reached an unspecified settlement with nearly half of the roughly 350 men who allege university officials ignored their complaints and failed to stop the late team doctor Richard Straus, who they say sexually abused athletes and other students throughout his two decades there.
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Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing contributed to this report.