The former president of Michigan State University was charged Tuesday with lying to police about the investigation into Larry Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor at the school who sexually abused girls and women under the guise of medical treatment.
Lou Anna Simon faces two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to an officer in the investigation, according to a warrant.
Simon referred a question about the charges to an attorney.
"I have not seen a shred of evidence to support these charges, which I believe are completely baseless," said Lee Silver, an attorney for Simon. "We are confident that when we have our day in court, Dr. Simon will be exonerated and these charges will be proven to have no merit whatsoever."
In 2014, Nassar was cleared in an investigation by the school after a woman alleged he assaulted her. Women have said they complained to Michigan State officials as early as 1997 about the doctor's abuse.
Documents in the criminal case say Simon told an officer she was not aware of the nature of the 2014 complaint. When asked if she was aware of any investigation of Nassar before 2016, she "falsely or misleadingly said" she was aware a sports medicine doctor was under review in 2014 "when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar" who was the subject of that investigation, the documents say.
Criminal charges against a former university president are rare, and some saw political motives in the actions of the Michigan attorney general. Others welcomed the action as a signal that administrators cannot sweep such allegations under the rug, but must take action to prevent abuse.
During one of Nassar's trials last winter, the testimony of hundreds of women and girls horrified the country and led to pressure for Simon, the longtime president of the public university, to leave.
Simon resigned in January, and the board of trustees appointed former Michigan governor John Engler to serve as interim president. Simon retained her tenured faculty position.
In May, the university agreed to settle for $500 million with hundreds of plaintiffs who sued over Nassar's abuse.
Megan Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, confirmed that independent counsel Bill Forsyth filed charges against Simon, but she declined to comment on the charges or the ongoing investigation.
Emily Guerrant, an MSU spokeswoman, said the school is aware of the charges against Simon. "She is taking an immediate leave of absence, without pay, to focus on her legal situation," Guerrant said.
Michael Barasch, a lawyer who has represented victims of abuse in other cases, said the charges send a message of accountability, and a message to leaders that they can't look the other way. "Apparently the attorney general feels there's a lot of evidence that she lied, she misled investigators . . . she allowed this, and enabled this monster to do what he did," Barasch said.
Mae Kuykendall, a law professor at MSU, said the presumption of innocence for Simon is present, as it should be.
"Persuading a jury of who said what to whom, and who knew what and when, may well present a challenge," Kuykendall said. cThe prosecution bears a heavy burden to prove a criminal charge. The charge is not civil in nature, or a claim that she had poor judgment about underlings she should trust. It is a criminal charge requiring clear evidence a jury would be justified to believe."
In 2017, three former Pennsylvania State University administrators, including former president Graham Spanier, were sentenced to serve at least two months in jail Friday for failing to alert law enforcement about an incident involving retired football coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy in a shower. Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing boys, and the administrators were convicted of child endangerment.