In the days after Dr. Larry Nassar was fired from Michigan State University over claims of sexual assault, one of his former colleagues at MSU said that survivors “went after” the wrong man.
“This is too good of a person with the right intentions to end up in prison,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kovan, a team physician for MSU athletics. “That’s what I worry about. I’ve seen that and it’s a horrible story. And so, this is not the right guy. They went after the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. But it still needs to be looked into because people felt that way."
In an e-mail sent today, Kovan told Scripps station WXYZ in Detroit that he he no longer stands by his support of Nassar.
VIDEO: In police interviews, Nassar blamed everyone but himself
For years, Kovan worked alongside Nassar in the school’s sports medicine department. He was interviewed by officers with MSU police in September 2016.
“It’s just hard, it’s just hard watching him get just lambasted in the press,” Kovan said. “And the system is the system, nobody defends the person that’s being accused because he’s obviously guilty until proven innocent. That’s how the world sees it.”
In his interview with police, Kovan acknowledged that it was possible that Nassar overstepped medical boundaries which, at the time, had led 16 patients to allege abuse.
But he also said Nassar’s special techniques made him unique in the medical field.
"That is part of his practice. And I’ve said to somebody else, you know, there’s been 16 other people that have come out with complaints, but the number should be will into (the) hundreds,” Kovan said. “Because for 30 years—not this procedure per say— but for many, many years, this is why he has the skill set and the expertise that he does. Because he does this procedures, because the rest of us don’t.”
While Kovan largely defended Nassar during the interview, he may have also helped build the case against him.
When police asked Kovan if he would treat female patients without someone else present, as Nassar often did, Kovan said no. What about performing intimate treatments without a glove, they asked. Unlike Nassar, Kovan said he wouldn’t.
Also interviewed by police following Nassar’s firing was Dr. Brooke Lemmen. She was one of four doctors close to Nassar who cleared him in a 2014 Title IX complaint alleging sexual abuse.
When police spoke to Lemmen in 2016, she defended her friend again.
“You’ve got this person you’ve worked with for 14 years, I’ve never seen anything that would make me worried,” Lemmen told police. “There are coaches in the gymnastics world you get the creep factor from. And I’ve never had that from him.”
Lemmen told police that the embattled doctor asked her to retrieve patient files from his office so he could review the charts of patients alleging abuse.
“He said his lawyer wanted him to review those," Lemmen said. "I told him yeah, I can pick those up. And…I was not going to bring them to him that night. And as I was driving home that night, it was one of those, like, he shouldn’t have these.”
Lemmen took the files to her home, but said she decided against sharing them with Nassar. Today by phone, her attorney Aaron Kemp said Lemmen returned the files to MSU and made the school aware of other medical files Nassar kept at Twistars Gymnastics Club. Kemp said Lemmen cooperated with all investigations into Nassar.
Lemmen ultimately resigned from MSU after learning the school was considering firing her. Jeffrey Kovan is still employed by Michigan State.
“Do I trust and believe in him? Absolutely I do,” Kovan told police in 2016. “Would I have him see my family member? Tomorrow, if he was allowed to. Because I trust him that much.”
Contact WXYZ investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.