Police chief behind Nassar's takedown questions why Geddert wasn't arrested

Feb. 27—Prosecutors in Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office took criticism from the man who oversaw the arrest of Larry Nassar for agreeing to allow former U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics coach John Geddert to surrender himself to authorities to face 24 felonies, including human trafficking and sexual assault charges.

Former Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap said Friday that he was surprised to learn Geddert would have been allowed to surrender, rather than be arrested, given the scope of the charges announced by Nessel hours before police found Geddert's body following his suicide.

Geddert, 63, was a longtime colleague of Nassar, the disgraced sports medicine doctor, and was charged with lying to police when he told investigators in 2016 he was unaware of Nassar's abuse of women and girls. But he also faced 20 counts of human trafficking, a racketeering charge and counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He faced up to life in prison for the rape charge.

Dunlap, who worked for MSU police for 50 years, was chief when the department arrested Nassar in 2016 on three sexual assault charges. The department's policy was to take suspects into custody first and let the court determine risks such as flight or harm to themselves, especially in sex crimes involving minors, he said.

His department spent days surveilling Nassar before arresting him because of concerns that Nassar, his family or police officers could be harmed during the arrest.

"In my professional opinion, it was a lapse in procedure in general that you just don't let somebody charged with something like that to turn themselves in," Dunlap said. "No one wants anybody to commit suicide. Everyone, the public, all the girls that came forward on this, they all deserved the opportunity to have this heard in court. And it was denied because of what he chose."

Attorney General spokesman Ryan Jarvi admitted there was some miscommunication prior to Nessel's 1 p.m. press conference announcing the charges against Geddert. He would not be more specific.

Nessel told reporters Geddert was believed to have turned himself in at the Eaton County Sheriff Department Delta Township substation and that he would be arraigned later that afternoon. But he never arrived at the substation. His body was later found at a rest stop in Clinton County, just west of Lansing.

"We were told Geddert was on his way to the sheriff's substation," Jarvi said. "We later found out he did not turn himself in. This is standard procedure. We had no indication that Geddert intended to flee or hurt himself or others. We had been in contact with his attorney and were assured of his cooperation.

Jarvi said he couldn't comment further on the situation because of a Michigan State Police investigation into Geddert's death.

"We have no response to outside speculation, which is simply that — outside speculation," he said.

Andy Arena, former head of the FBI's field office in Detroit, noted prosecutors are beginning to work more with defense attorneys to have clients turn themselves in.

"I was never a big fan of it when I was with the FBI," said Arena, who is now executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission, a nonprofit that works to improve public safety in southeast Michigan. "I was always of the opinion, if you commit the crime, you should be arrested. The prosecutors and the defense attorneys see it a different way, and that's who it's up to."

In federal cases, police and prosecutors take a team approach, Arena said. They consider a suspect's flight risk and whether the person might consider suicide, be a threat to others or retaliate against police.

"I am not aware of any federal cases dealing with sexual predator charges where we didn't go out and put the handcuffs on somebody," Arena said. "So much is weighed into the decision whether you go out and arrest someone. Those things are not easy to determine. It can be a guessing game.

"I am sure there are a lot of people up in Lansing that are second-guessing themselves right now."

Prior to Nassar's arrest at a Belle Tire in Lansing in November 2016, MSU police had surveillance teams in place for several days, Dunlap said.

"We decided exactly how we were going to (arrest him) to create the least possibility that anybody else would be exposed or that somebody could deny us entry," he said. "We knew exactly what we were going to do and the exact best time we were going to do it so that we made sure he was in custody with the least chance of our folks being hurt or him or anyone in his family."

In general, Dunlap said, police also want to be sure when someone is arrested that they don't barricade themselves or take a hostage or hurt a police officer.

"It's hard to scrutinize what someone else does," said Dunlap, referring to whoever in the attorney general's office made the decision to allow Geddert to turn himself in. "I am just troubled. I wish that all of the people who were impacted so much would have had that chance to have him go in from to the court. And that is not going happen."

Geddert's suicide reverberated around the world and shook the gymnastics community as the sexual abuse scandal that began in 2016 with Nassar continues to linger over unresolved litigation and issues involving USA Gymnastics, MSU and other organizations.

Angela Povilaitis, who prosecuted Nassar, began tweeting shortly after Geddert's death was announced to reassure victims experiencing a range of emotions that it was normal and urging anyone who needed help to call the Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline at (855) 864-2374.

"Just know. You are NEVER alone," tweeted Povilaitis, who is now the staff policy attorney of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board. "There is always someone here to listen, to talk to, to connect with, to help."

Trinea Gonczar is a former gymnast who trained with Geddert and was sexually assaulted by Nassar. She now works for Avalon Healing, formerly the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners program.

"It's heartbreaking to see how much of my childhood has revolved around this," Gonczar said.

She called Thursday "another day for us that has noted sadness and pain for all involved."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kimberkoz