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Watchdog: FBI mishandled Nassar-USA Gymnastics abuse case, FBI releases statement

Posted at 6:04 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 21:58:56-04

WASHINGTON — The FBI made significant errors in investigating sexual abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar and didn’t treat the case with the “utmost seriousness," according to a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

More athletes said they were molested before the the FBI swung into action. The FBI acknowledged conduct that was “inexcusable and a discredit."

The report "found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required."

"We also found that the FBI Indianapolis Field Office made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office (the Lansing Resident Agency) or state or local authorities of the allegations, and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar," the report says.

"What happened with the handling of this investigation should not have happened ... We will put all necessary steps in place to make sure there is no chance it happens again," the FBI said in a statement.

The long-awaited watchdog report highlights missteps at the FBI between the time the allegations were first reported and Nassar’s arrest. USA Gymnastics contacted the FBI about the allegations in July 2015.

The specific findings of the report include:

  • Officials in the Indianapolis Field Office violated numerous FBI policies in handling the Nassar allegations. Specifically, officials in the Indianapolis Field Office:
  • failed to formally document a July 28, 2015 meeting with USA Gymnastics during which the FBI first received the allegations against Nassar;
  • failed to properly handle and document receipt and review of relevant evidence, i.e., a thumb drive provided by USA Gymnastics President Stephen D. Penny, Jr.;
  • failed to document until February 2017 an interview of a gymnast that was conducted on September 2, 2015, during which the gymnast alleged sexual assault by Nassar; and
  • failed to transfer the Nassar allegations to the FBI Lansing Resident Agency, where venue most likely would have existed for potential federal crimes.

"As mentioned in the Report, the individuals from the Indianapolis Field Office (IP) failed to properly document and handle the initial complaint of sexual abuse allegations and the related evidence. These failures violated existing policy at the time of the initial 2015 complaint," the FBI said. "Allegations of child abuse, child exploitation, or child neglect must be thoroughly and immediately investigated ... There are no exceptions to prompt reporting requirements when children are at risk."

Additionally, the report says Indianapolis Field Office officials "did not take responsibility for their failures and provided incomplete and inaccurate information to make it appear that they had been diligent in responding to the sexual abuse allegations."

"We want to make clear that the mishandling of the initial complaint in 2015 and 2016 described in the Inspector General’s report is absolutely inexcusable," the FBI said. "The agents who, as the Inspector General found, failed to treat serious allegations of sexual abuse with the utmost urgency did not to live up to their obligation to protect the American public and violated the FBI’s core values."

The FBI says it will incorporate new language and documentation requirements into the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) for allegations of crimes against children to ensure that such complaints are handled expediently, with a focus on information dissemination practices to FBI partners.

The FBI also says annual training has been updated "to ensure that all FBI personnel are aware of their obligation to report child abuse and is developing new mandatory supervisor training for all Headquarters and field supervisors who manage investigations related to the above."

The FBI released the following statement to WRTV:

“As the Inspector General made clear in today’s report, this should not have happened. The FBI will never lose sight of the harm that Nassar’s abuse caused. The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization. The FBI has taken affirmative steps to ensure and has confirmed that those responsible for the misconduct and breach of trust no longer work FBI matters.

Prior to today, the FBI initiated improvements to make sure that serious allegations, such as these, are promptly shared with our law enforcement partners and within the FBI. As a continuation of these efforts, the FBI is fully committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by the Inspector General.

We will take all necessary steps to ensure that the failures of the employees outlined in the Report do not happen again.”

On Thursday evening, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced they would hold an oversight hearing.

To view an interactive timeline of the case, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.