Former MSU dean found guilty of multiple charges following a trial filled with #MeToo subtext
A jury of 12 has decided that a former dean at Michigan State University is guilty of multiple criminal charges – including a felony.
William Strampel was the dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine for more than a decade. He initially stepped down for medical reasons before being officially fired in 2018, in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar is the former Michigan State sports doctor who sexually assaulted his patients for decades. During his sentencing for sexual assault, more than 150 women and girls came forward to say that they too had been abused by Nassar.
Strampel was found guilty of two misdemeanors for failing to enforce certain protocols and properly oversee Nassar after a 2014 complaint and an internal investigation.
However, the most serious charges against Strampel were not connected to Nassar. Strampel was found guilty of felony Misconduct of a Public Official and not guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, also a felony.
The prosecution argued that Strampel used his position of authority to try to get sexual favors from his female students.
Several women testified that they went to Strampel because they wanted to retake a test or because they had some concern about their future at the college. They said during their separate meetings with Strampel that he made comments like, “If you tell anybody that I made this exception for you, I’ll tell people that we’re having sex and ruin your reputation” and “You would look sexy driving that sports car.”
The criminal sexual conduct charge was a part of that. Jessica Neuroth told the jury that Strampel grabbed her buttocks while at a scholarship dinner in 2014. The key focus in both these charges was whether Strampel had a “corrupt intent.”
The arguments of both sides felt especially relevant in the #MeToo era.
Hagaman-Clark argued during her opening statement and closing arguments that Strampel was in a powerful position at MSU, that he held the future of these women in his hands, and that he knew what he was doing when he made statements to these students like, “How many of your classmates are virgins” and “I own you.”
She began each monologue to the jury saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Strampel’s attorney, John Dakmak, fired back saying that any comments that Strampel made were, “locker room talk.” A former colleague of Strampel’s, Dr. William Falls, testified that Strampel would say sexually inappropriate things to groups, men, women – pretty much anyone.
“I know there were other members of the dean’s staff who were going to talk to him about it,” Falls said. “There was also evaluations or surveys that were being done that we did make comments about that language and how it could be detrimental to the college.”
Dakmak used that testimony in an attempt to show that Strampel admittedly had, “a sailor’s mouth” but said that that wasn’t enough for any sort of criminal or corrupt intent. Dakmak argued that there needed to be some sort of quid pro quo – and that the only people that benefited from the conversations were the women, who got what they asked Strampel for without a follow-up demand for anything.
“The corruption is not there,” Dakmak said during his closing argument. “Don’t take shock and awe and boggle that up with criminal intent. With criminality.”
“Locker room talk” wasn’t enough to convict Strampel, Hagaman-Clark argreed. But she said these weren’t comments being made at a bar. They were between a dean of the college, and women who believed he was, “standing between them and their dream of becoming a doctor.”
“Should these women have to listen to this sexually inappropriate language? And this sexual innuendo?” Hagaman-Clark said in her rebuttal arguments. “They all felt threatened by it. Why? Why should they have to listen to that? They’re simply trying to become doctors.”
To bring the point home, a woman in the audience of the trial held up a sign during Dakmak’s closing that Judge Draganchuk later explained read, “Me Too.”
In the end, the jury agreed with Hagaman-Clark for the misconduct charge.
When asked about the not guilty verdict for the second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, the most serious charge against Strampel, Dakmak said, “The jury saw through a lot of allegations that fell flat.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office handled the prosecution, released a statement.
“Today’s verdict sends a clear message: it’s time to change the culture in our schools and medical communities so that our female students and doctors receive the same treatment and respect as their male counterparts.”