Survivors, key officials share pivotal moments in UM sexual abuse controversy

Feb. 19—Robert Julian Stone walked up the stairs leading to the University of Michigan's health service building, stood in the lobby and looked down a dark corridor.

Two weeks had passed since Stone became the first man to publicly accuse the late UM Dr. Robert Anderson of sexual abuse. It was March of last year, and Stone had flown into Michigan from Palm Springs, California so he could attend a press conference and join a small group of men who were beginning to come forward and accuse Anderson of similar allegations and demanding that UM launch an investigation.

Stone hadn't been to Ann Arbor in more than 20 years. But before the press conference, he took a Lyft to UM's campus because he said it was paramount for him to return to the University Health Service building where he says Anderson assaulted him during an exam nearly 50 years earlier in 1971.

"I now have a different relationship to this building and I have a different task in front of me: closure, for myself, and for all of the other people," Stone said recently. "I can't bring closure to them but I can and have done a little bit to help them along that road."

One year ago, Stone's voice inspired several other men to come forward with similar sexual misconduct allegations against Anderson, thus beginning a process of healing, justice and reconciliation.

There are now 850 reported victims involved in legal proceedings against the university. Stone is one of several men, from a dogged UM police detective to a determined former football player, who have driven pivotal moments to show who in the university community was aware of Anderson's behavior as early as 1979 and insist on justice and reform. At least a half dozen current and former UM officials are accused of being aware of complaints about Anderson.

A year after the accusations emerged against Anderson, two lawmakers this week reintroduced legislation that would give Anderson's accusers a one-year window to file lawsuits over abuse that is now outside the statute of limitations. The bipartisan bills were introduced last year but not passed before the Legislature adjourned for the year.

"It's more important now than ever to reintroduce this legislation to stand by the survivors of Dr. Anderson, and make sure they can seek justice as they come forward with their stories," said Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, who is introducing the package with Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit.

Anderson was director of the university's health service and team physician for the athletic department for more than three decades and is accused of preying mostly on men, including athletes, potential soldiers and pilots, along with some women. He allegedly gave unnecessary testicular and prostate exams and sometimes fondled patients or asked them to touch him while he was employed at UM from 1966 to 2003.

Anderson died in 2008. He took to his grave many explanations including what happened in 1979 when a top UM official confronted him about assaulting young men in exam rooms. Anderson worked for UM for another 24 years.

The acts that so many say Anderson committed were already being investigated when Stone made his public statements.

Tad DeLuca, a former university wrestler, had written a letter three months earlier to UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel, saying that Anderson touched him inappropriately and digitally penetrated him "too many times for it have been considered diagnostic" in the 1970s.

It was the second letter that DeLuca had written that addressed Anderson's behavior. Decades earlier, in 1975 when DeLuca was a UM student, he said he wrote a letter to head wrestling coach Bill Johannesen outlining his struggles with the team, the sport and his injuries. He also mentioned that "something is wrong with Dr. Anderson."

"Regardless of what you go in there for," wrote DeLuca, then 20, "he makes you drop your drawers and cough."

Johannesen told The News last year none of the wrestlers ever accused Anderson of misconduct.

DeLuca, now 66 and living in Gaylord, said he was inspired to write his second letter after watching hundreds of women and girls speak out about the decades of sexual abuse by former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar, now incarcerated for life.

DeLuca wasn't sure there were others who had the same experience. But he came forward because he felt like Anderson's behavior was wrong, though doubts were in the back of his mind because he remembered some saying that a scandal like the Nassar investigation could never happen at the University of Michigan.

"By golly, it did," said DeLuca, "and it changed the trajectory of many lives."

DeLuca vividly remembered when he got a phone call from UM Police Detective Mark West. It was his mother's birthday and he had to pull over because he was driving. West began asking him about what happened during Anderson's exams, and told him that there were dozens of others with similar complaints.

"I was totally shocked," DeLuca said. "I was right. They found other people. There were too many prostate exams on young men, and worse."

West opened the investigation into Anderson on Oct. 3, 2018, after he was alerted to DeLuca's letter.

DeLuca's tenacity and West's investigation began a paper trail on Anderson. But it wouldn't become public for another 16 months.

West continued his inquiry and documented interviews of former UM students and university officials. Documents outlining Anderson's employment history, medical records and complaints lodged at the state were included in his 91-page police report in September 2019.

Stone asked for a copy of his report a few months later, but a UM records official told him that complaints from him and several other accusers were under review by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office.

A former journalist, Stone feared that the accusations against Anderson would be under review indefinitely, and never become public.

So Stone shared his story with The Detroit News — and created a firestorm.

On the same day that Stone's accusation became public, UM acknowledged that an investigation had been underway for 19 months. The university apologized, publicized a hotline, announced the hiring of an outside investigator and publicly asked for any other potential victims to come forward.

Prosecutors said that same day that their office would be unable to charge anyone and, days later, released West's police report.

The report exposed a doctor accused of conducting inappropriate exams with men. It also showed that Thomas Easthope, the former UM associate vice president for student services, became aware of Anderson's alleged behavior in 1979 and attempted to fire him.

Many have hailed West, a 26-year veteran of the UM police department, calling him compassionate yet determined. Several said that he has followed up with them after he initially interviewed them to ask how they were doing and if he could do anything for them.

"I don't think UM or their lawyers, or whomever, was acting very quickly, on purpose," DeLuca said. "Detective West did his job, but he did more than that. I have a fondness for him. He did something that a lot of people seemed unwilling to do."

UM declined to make West available for an interview for this story because of ongoing legal proceedings and an outside investigation.

Former UM football player Chuck Christian was in the hospital and expecting to die when Stone and other men started to speak out about Anderson.

"I would call those guys heroes," Christian said. "They exposed a serious problem that needed to be dealt with."

Christian was diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer five years earlier and told he had three years left to live since the cancer had metastasized to his bones, spine, ribs, tailbone, sacrum, hips and shoulders. He attributed his cancer advancement to his fear of physicians. When he didn't die and got out of the hospital, he decided to speak out, too.

After Christian publicly shared his story, dozens of men reached out to him. They spent hours on the phone, crying as some spoke about Anderson'sabuse with Christian for the first time.

"This was really really hard on a lot of the guys and they need to heal so the impact of Anderson doesn't go from generation to generation," said Christian.

Livonia-based lawyer Mike Cox, a former Michigan attorney general, filed the first lawsuit against UM in March alleging the university was aware of the abuse and responsible for it. A class-action lawsuit was filed days later.

Since then, more than 100 lawsuits have been filed against the university. Cox also lobbied for and was granted an emergency deposition of Easthope, along with an upcoming deposition of former Vice President for Student Services Henry Johnson. Mediation is also underway between Anderson's accusers and the university in an attempt to settle out of court.

Several men who filed lawsuits said they told several UM officials about Anderson, including UM Assistant Athletic Director Paul Schmidt, who has said he had no knowledge of alleged assaults.

Others who have been accused of being told about Anderson include former UM Athletic Director Don Canham, who is deceased; former head UM track head coach Jack Harvey and former UM assistant track coach Ron Warhurst, both of whom through their attorney denied being aware.

Meanwhile, several high-profile men have accused Anderson of sexual assault including Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat and Super Bowl champ Dwight Hicks. Cathy Kalahar, a former UM student and varsity tennis player in 1973, accused Anderson of abuse in July.

Jonathan Vaughn, a former UM and NFL player for the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs, spent two months this winter in an Upper Peninsula cottage so he could write the first draft of a book on the Anderson scandal.

It was an unusual experience for Vaughn to experience so much solitude; he normally lives in Dallas. But he needed to focus so his book, and a future nonprofit he hopes to start, will be another step in trying create a new culture, he said.

"I want to be advocating on behalf sexual assault victims," said Vaughn, "and give a voice to the voiceless."

During the UM Board of Regents on Thursday, President Mark Schlissel said work is underway with an outside firm, Guidepost Solutions, to change the culture around sexual assault at UM.

"This is one important step in our comprehensive work to prevent and address sexual and gender-based misconduct, and create an environment and culture where everyone in our community feels safe, that they can report misconduct without fear of retaliation and that reports will be acted on appropriately," Schlissel said.

UM student body President Amanda Kaplan told the board that the work is important especially since reports of sexual misconduct continue.

"It is clear that there is a large systemic problem within our community," said Kaplan. "Our procedures and policies do not currently do enough to subvert sexual misconduct, empower survivors, hold perpetrators accountable and at the very least prevent these perpetrators from holding powerful positions within our institution."

Twitter: @kimberkoz