Thirteen women who were sexually assaulted by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar have filed negligence claims against the FBI, and are asking the Bureau for $130 million in compensation, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Nassar was sentenced to more than 100 years imprisonment in 2018 for sexually molesting more than 150 young women over a 20 year period as the USA Gymnastics’ team doctor. The Justice Department Inspector General issued a blistering report in July of 2021 criticizing the FBI for grossly mishandling its investigation into the serial molester.
The federal investigation found that two agents in Indianapolis committed “fundamental errors” for failing to respond to allegations of sexual abuse “with the urgency that the allegations required.” The report also concluded that Jay Abbott, the former head of the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office, made false statements to investigators and “violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules.”
Federal law provides broad protections that shield government agencies and their employees from lawsuits, but survivors could argue that the agents’ actions — particularly their false statements to the Office of Inspector General — eroded that shield.
“It would be an uphill battle,” Indiana University law professor Jody Madeira said, “but not insurmountable.”
A tort claim is the first step survivors must take if they want compensation from the federal government. Once the FBI issues a response, they can decide if they want to file a lawsuit in federal court.
During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last September, former Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney said she provided “extreme details” about Nassar’s abuse during a traumatic three-hour phone interview with Abbott in the summer of 2015, and not only did the FBI not report the abuse, “but when they eventually documented my report seventeen months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.”
The women’s attorneys filed federal tort claims on Wednesday saying that they suffered “significant and irreparable personal injuries” because of the FBI’s failure to act when it first received the sexual abuse allegations.
“To know the FBI could have helped to avoid this trauma — it disgusts me, and it hurts me,” Nassar survivor Grace French said during a Thursday hearing. “This incredible systemic breakdown shows that there is needed change in the way the the FBI responds to cases of abuse.”
Former Michigan State University gymnast Lindsey Lemke joined the claim with French. The 11 remaining women are anonymous.
Attorney Jamie White said Thursday that a lawsuit has already been drafted, and he expects more survivors to join the suit.
“I do think that we’re going to see several more claims,” White said.
During her testimony last fall, Maroney accused USA Gymnastics, the Olympic Committee and the FBI of colluding “to conceal that Larry Nassar was a predator.”
She said that after the FBI heard her story, Nassar should have been arrested that day, but instead, he was allowed to continue on in his position to molest dozens of other young gymnasts for almost another year and a half.
After Abbott finally produced a report, the OIG harshly condemned it as making “material, false statements and deceptive omissions.”
“What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?” Maroney asked the committee. “They had legal legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing. If they’re not going to protect me, I want to know who are they trying to protect.”
Horowitz testified that he referred the agents’ conduct for criminal prosecution to attorneys at the the Justice Department.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified last September that federal investigators had made “totally unacceptable” errors, and that Abbott had been fired.
“When I received the inspector general’s report and saw that the supervisory special agent in Indianapolis had failed to carry out even the most basic parts of the job, I immediately made sure he was no longer performing the functions of a special agent,” Wray said. “And I can now tell you that individual no longer works for the FBI in any capacity.”
Wray said the FBI agents “betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people” and “failed to protect young women and girls from abuse.”
The Biden Justice Department however declined to bring criminal charges against the agents.