'What happened in Ann Arbor is a horror story': Three individuals allege sexual assault against Dr. Anderson

Thursday, March 5, 2020 - 6:22pm

Prior to the press conference featuring three men alleging sexual assault against former University doctor Robert E. Anderson, survivors of Larry Nassar and their legal team, photos of the University of Michigan Board of Regents are on display.

Prior to the press conference featuring three men alleging sexual assault against former University doctor Robert E. Anderson, survivors of Larry Nassar and their legal team, photos of the University of Michigan Board of Regents are on display. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Claire Hao

“What happened in Ann Arbor is a horror story, and it went on for over 25 years. Serial sexual assaults conducted by Dr. Anderson in his exam room,” said University of Michigan alum Robert Stone, the first person to publicly accuse former University doctor Robert E. Anderson of sexual assault.  

Along with Stone, JP DesCamp and University alum Michael Connelley shared their stories of alleged sexual assault at the hands of former University doctor Robert E. Anderson publicly for the first time at a press conference in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Thursday at noon. Positioned in front of pictures of the University Board of Regents, their legal team alleged negligence on the part of the University towards Anderson's misconduct and called for the Michigan Attorney General’s office to investigate. 

The three men were joined by survivors of Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University doctor sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse after accusations from more than 160 women. The conference was organized by law firms Manly Stewart & Finaldi, Dalton & Associates, Drew Cooper & Anding and Grewal Law. Collectively, the legal team claims to represent more than 50 victims of Anderson as well as more than 300 victims of Nassar. 

In a separate press conference later on Thursday in Lansing, Mich., Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the office would not consider requests to investigate the University and the allegations against Anderson unless the University waived all privileges. Nessel said she hopes the University does choose to waive all privileges to allow the investigation to occur. 

Anderson was formerly the director of University Health Service and an athletic team physician who worked at the University until 2003. The three allegations on Thursday add to more than 100 unique complaints of sexual misconduct against Anderson received by the University through the hotline as of Monday. 

DesCamp was neither a student nor an athlete at the University. Rather, DesCamp said he visited Anderson in 1973 after being told to do so by his employer General Motors to obtain a standard physical examination when he was 22 years old. At the time, DesCamp was a pilot for the military.

Though the examination started out normally, DesCamp said the examination took a weird turn after Anderson asked him to lie down on the examination table face-up. Then, DesCamp said Anderson removed DesCamp’s underwear and performed an unnecessary testicular examination.

“I don’t wish to go any further with graphic details, but suffice to say, the continued probing, stimulation and painful testicular examination left me in a state of feeling highly vulnerable and taken advantage of,” DesCamp said.

According to DesCamp, Anderson then admonished him for being “too nervous.” After this physical, DesCamp said he never returned to Anderson’s office again. 

“He further stated that he was going to help me by scheduling further appointments with him so I could get used to pulling down my pants in front of him,” DesCamp said. “He reiterated the importance of these continued visits especially at the end of the seemingly eternal and humiliating physical exam.”

As reported by The Detroit News, Stone sent University officials an essay about his abuse by Anderson titled “My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971” in August 2019. At Thursday’s press conference, Stone said he wrote this letter after being inspired by women who shared their stories of sexual assault as part of the #MeToo movement.

“Most of the time it doesn’t appear in print as it happened, and the reason… is because it is so disgusting that I’m sure the journalists understand how hard it would be for their readers to hear this story,” Stone said.

According to Stone, Anderson’s assaults were systemic in that he could not have gotten away with years of abusing patients on his own.

“The University allowed it to happen,” Stone said. “They provided him a venue for his assaults, which was his exam room. They gave him a very significant salary, and they provided him with a series of subjects he could take advantage of.”

Connelley alleged sexual abuse by Anderson over a three-year period starting when he was 18. He said he went to see Anderson for a sore throat after being referred to him by a friend who claimed Anderson was “gay-friendly.” 

The assaults have greatly affected his personal life, Connelley said, and have forced him to overcome obstacles he should have never encountered.

“I do not accept an apology from the University of Michigan, because it is coming way too little, way too late, and way not enough,” Connelley said. “The damage is done."

Currently, the University is contracting law firm Steptoe & Johnson, LLP to conduct an independent, outside review of the allegations against Anderson. In a statement to the campus community on Feb. 19, the University asked patients of Anderson to call the University’s hotline at (866) 990-0111 if they wish to report sexual misconduct by Anderson. 

In response to a request for comment from The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote the University is deeply apologetic for the harm caused by Anderson. 

“We recognize the enormous strength and courage it takes for survivors to come forward and share their stories,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The university continues to encourage those who have been harmed by Robert E. Anderson or who have evidence of his misconduct, to come forward. It’s important that the University of Michigan hear your voices.”

Broekhuizen emphasized the University will offer free, confidential counseling to those abused by Anderson, a service announced Thursday morning. Counseling will be conducted by Praesidium, a national counseling services firm also providing support to those affected by alleged sexual misconduct by University Provost Martin Philbert. Individuals can call Praesidium at (888) 961-9273. 

However, at Thursday’s press conference, Stone and the legal team repeatedly urged other victims of Anderson not to call the University hotline, which they emphasized was being facilitated by a law firm contracted by the University and was thus not a neutral body. Instead, Stone said those hoping to report misconduct by Anderson should call University Police Detective Mark West at (734) 763-7179. 

In an interview with The Daily, John Manly, the lead attorney for the individuals at Thursday’s press conference and for Nassar victims, said calling West would not be a conflict of interest even though he is affiliated with the University because a police officer is sworn to uphold the law, regardless of who is implicated.

“As a sworn officer, if the University of Michigan is implicated, (West) can’t hide that,” Manly said. “The reason we don’t want people calling the hotline is they’re defense lawyers. They’re a huge international law firm that defends corporations and institutions. They owe an attorney-client relationship to the University of Michigan.”

Several Nassar survivors and survivor advocates also spoke at Thursday’s press conference, among them Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz. In her remarks, Lorincz urged University administrators not to repeat MSU’s mistakes.

“MSU showed our community, our country and the world how not to treat survivors, how not to be transparent and how not to do it right,” Lorincz said. “Wolverines live to surpass their rivals on the field, on the ice, and on the court. I’m asking that you make that same commitment to be better than MSU where it really matters. Beat them at accountability, at transparency, at human decency.”

Attorney Mick Grewal said he doubts the effectiveness of the University’s investigation into allegations against Anderson, comparing it to MSU’s internal investigations of Nassar.

“Transparency is the utmost thing that has to happen, and that’s not going to happen with their investigation,” Grewal said. “We learned this from Michigan State when they repeatedly did their internal investigations and then they refused to turn those documents to the Attorney General’s office … How can this investigation that’s ongoing at Michigan be independent? It’s not, it’s actually being done for the University.” 

Other than Anderson, Manly said there are individuals who are still alive who need to be held accountable for Anderson’s actions. According to Manly, these include administrators, wrestling and football coaches, trainers, doctors and nurses.

“This doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Manly said. “Perpetrators don’t perpetrate without help or willful ignorance.”

Manly also referenced the University’s message to students that all are part of the campus “family.” If University students, faculty, staff and alumni are truly family, Manly said University administrators should not pursue litigation to defend themselves. Instead, Manly urged the Board of Regents to center the voices and needs of survivors.

“Going through the civil litigation process is essentially verbal and written combat,” Manly said. “And in combat, there are casualties... These people should not be casualties."

On Wednesday, the first lawsuit against the University involving allegations against Anderson was filed in U.S. District Court by a former unnamed University wrestler who alleges at least 35 different incidences of abuse by Anderson in the 1980s. According to The Detroit News, 11 lawsuits from former University athletes against Anderson are expected to be filed, including several in the coming days.

Also on Wednesday, attorneys from Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane, LLP — representing more than 50 alleged survivors of Anderson — held a press conference about their meetings with Tim Lynch, University vice president and general counsel. At Wednesday’s conference, Parker Stinar, the lead attorney for this group, also voiced concerns about the University’s investigation and warned victims against calling the University hotline. 

Stinar also announced Tuesday that his team’s clients include two former football players and one former hockey player. At this time, Stinar said at Wednesday's press conference his team is not pursuing a lawsuit to keep their clients’ identities private. 

Former University wrestlers Tad Deluca, Andy Hrovat and Thomas Evashevski also publicly accused Anderson of sexual misconduct for the first time at a press conference on Feb. 27. 

Instead of forcing the truth to come out through lawsuits, Manly told The Daily he hopes University administrators end the internal investigation. Instead, Manly said the Board of Regents should instead ask for and fully cooperate with an Attorney General investigation. 

According to the University’s initial statement, University Police opened an investigation into Anderson’s alleged misconduct after a “former student athlete” wrote a letter to Athletic Director Warde Manuel in July 2018 accusing Anderson of abuse during medical examinations in the 1970s. The University announced this information to the public and opened the hotline after the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office determined no criminal charges could be authorized because Anderson is deceased. 

Last week, Deluca, the athlete whose 2018 letter to Manuel sparked the investigation into Anderson’s misconduct, spoke publicly for the first time. Deluca said he also wrote a letter in 1975 to the late Don Canham, then-athletic director, and Bill Johannesen, then-wrestling coach, about Anderson’s misconduct. 

When contacted by The Detroit News, Johannesen said he had heard one joke about Anderson that “you go to see him, and you have a sore elbow, he would say, ‘OK, pull your pants down.’” However, Johannesen said no wrestler ever told him of sexual misconduct by Anderson. Johannesen also said Anderson never abused him while he was a University wrestler. 

According to Stinar, Deluca’s attorney, Deluca lost his scholarship and financial aid and was then kicked off the wrestling team. Stinar said Johannesen also read Deluca’s 1975 letter to the team to humiliate him. Additionally, Stinar claims Deluca’s 2018 letter was ignored for months by Manuel and Pamela Heatlie, senior director of the Office of Institutional Equity at the time. 

Also last week, the Detroit Free Press reported Anderson was known for writing letters certifying students were gay so they could avoid the Vietnam War draft in exchange for sexual favors. 

Given his experience as an attorney representing sexual misconduct cases, Manly told The Daily he suspects the number of victims by Anderson may be in the thousands, especially given how long he was at the University. 

“When your first instinct is to hire a lawyer and have survivors call your lawyer, that’s not somebody who really gets it,” Manly said. “If you want to make this right, you have to do something that is almost counterintuitive and brave, which is to put your students and your survivors first.”

At the end of his remarks during Thursday’s press conference, Stone reiterated the need for transparency from the University about how many people were assaulted, how the assaults occurred and which individuals were negligent in preventing this abuse. 

“I know there are men who went to their graves without ever having closure about their assault at the hands of Dr. Anderson,” Stone said. “Those men are never far from my thoughts.”

Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu.