Penn State culture explained away Sandusky
Monday, December 12, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The warning signs were there for more than a decade, disturbing indicators Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was breaching boundaries with young boys — or maybe worse.
Yet the university’s top administrators kept allowing, even encouraging, Sandusky to invite some of those boys into campus sports buildings — locker rooms, showers, a sauna and a swimming pool — where prosecutors now say he fondled, molested and sexually assaulted some of the most vulnerable in the place known as Happy Valley.
Too many, from the university president to department heads to janitors, knew of troubling behavior by this revered, longtime coach who founded a charity for children with hardscrabble backgrounds. But at this school whose sports programs vow “success with honor,” the circle of knowledge was kept very limited and very private.
Year after year, Penn State missed opportunity after opportunity to stop Sandusky. Secrecy ruled, and reaction to complaints of improper sexual behavior was to remain silent, minimize or explain away — all part of a deep-rooted reflex to protect the sacred football program.
The fact so few say they knew is all anyone needs to know about the insular culture that surrounds Penn State — a remote and isolated community in a central Pennsylvania valley, a university cloaked in so much secrecy, in large part, because it is exempt from the state’s open records law, and a football program that has prided itself on handling its indiscretions internally and quietly, without outside interference.
Prosecutors say the only thing that stopped Sandusky, who retired a year after a 1998 allegation was not prosecuted, was when he was accused elsewhere, a decade later, of sexually abusing a freshman at a local high school where Sandusky had volunteered to help coach the football team.
Today, Sandusky is charged with more than 50 counts related to sexual abuse over a 12-year period. According to the criminal charges, when he wasn’t acting out his compulsions on the venerated main campus of Pennsylvania State University, he was doing so mostly in a basement bedroom of his home.
And while the official allegations, so far, target only three people — Sandusky, along with the school’s athletic director and a since-retired senior vice president, who are both charged with perjury and failure to report a 2002 sexual abuse complaint — an investigation by the Associated Press suggests blame also rests on Penn State as an institution and the entrenched traditions of now-fired head football coach Joe Paterno.
In addition, the AP investigation, which included scores of interviews and a review of the limited number of available documents, also reveals new details in the Sandusky case: the special handling of a 1998 sexual abuse complaint by child welfare workers; a clash between investigators over what the evidence showed at that time; extraordinary retirement perks that gave Sandusky access to places on campus where he is accused of abusing children; a determination by a nearby county child-welfare agency that Sandusky sexually abused a boy in 2008 in a case that sparked the state criminal case; and a passionate defense of Paterno’s role by his wife and her vigorous assertion his university superiors are responsible for any mistakes in the handling of the 2002 abuse complaint.
It matters greatly what Penn State officials knew and how they reacted to sexual abuse allegations because failing to act could imperil the future of the university’s athletic programs.
Under NCAA regulations, the overall ethical conduct of a college sports program is paramount. Administrations at all NCAA-member programs must exert “institutional control,” meaning they must strictly adhere to the rules and have an appropriate level of oversight in place to detect and investigate violations.
Failure of institutional control can result in a range of sanctions, including a ban from participation in intercollegiate sports, ineligibility for lucrative bowl games, and a loss of athletic scholarships.
The NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Penn State are each separately investigating whether the university violated any rules in its dealings with Sandusky.
In a statement, the Big Ten said the sex abuse scandal raised “significant concerns as to whether a concentration of power in a single individual or program may have threatened or eroded institutional control of intercollegiate athletics at Penn State.”
The first known complaint made to authorities about Sandusky, who says he’s innocent of all charges and faces a preliminary hearing today, came in a 1998 phone call to the Penn State police department. A mother was troubled after her 11-year-old boy told her he had showered naked with Sandusky on campus.
That complaint would trigger a separate review by Centre County’s Children and Youth Services, the child protection agency charged with handling abuse cases in the State College area.
But it was the Penn State police department, which is overseen by a top university administrator, that would lead a more comprehensive criminal investigation.
Those two investigations also would represent the university’s first known missed opportunity.
The woman’s son would become known as Victim 6 in the state’s current criminal case against Sandusky. Prosecutors say Sandusky lathered up the boy, bear-hugged him naked from behind and picked him up and put his head under the shower. Detectives say later, with police secretly listening in, Sandusky told the boy’s mother the joint shower had been a mistake, and blurted: “I wish I were dead.”
When county officials heard Sandusky’s name, they decided quickly to kick the case up to state child welfare investigators. Of course they knew Sandusky as a prominent Penn State defensive coach, and they also knew his charity, The Second Mile, had a contract with the county that paid $47 each day per child to provide foster care.
“I think his affiliation with The Second Mile program precluded the county from doing it,” said Jerry Lauro, the state Department of Public Welfare investigator who handled the complaint.
Together, Lauro and Ronald Schreffler, the lead detective from the university police, interviewed Sandusky about his shower with the 11-year-old. The grand jury report says Sandusky promised he would never shower with boys again.
Lauro eventually found no indication of abuse by Sandusky. “Boundary issues are one thing, but substantiated child abuse is another level,” Lauro said.
The social services worker said he didn’t have access to the criminal investigative file, which made an argument for charging Sandusky. Schreffler’s still-sealed report runs about 100 pages.
Schreffler declined comment. The grand jury report that led to the first 40 charges against Sandusky on Nov. 5 cites extensively from his work.
Schreffler testified his boss, then-campus police chief Thomas Harmon, told him to close his investigation, and the county prosecutor decided there would be no charges, for reasons that remain unknown today. Harmon served as an administrator under Gary Schultz, then Penn State’s senior vice president for finance and business.
Schultz has been charged in relation to a 2002 sexual abuse complaint against Sandusky. In grand jury testimony, Schultz said he was aware of the 1998 complaint investigated by his police department but never asked to see the investigative report and didn’t realize how lengthy it was.
Such seeming indifference runs throughout grand jury documents as well as a civil lawsuit filed by an accuser not covered in the criminal case.
But Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, sees the extensive 1998 investigation as vindication of his client. “All these people looked into that and decided there wasn’t enough to file criminal charges,” he said.
Sandusky has argued the 1998 complaint was a minor allegation determined not to be true. Amendola said Sandusky did not discuss that case with Paterno, Schultz or athletic director Tim Curley — the other official now charged in the 2002 allegation. Curley, now on leave, and Schultz both deny the criminal charges.
Still, Amendola said he believes university officials knew about the 1998 complaint, and they agreed there was nothing to it. “The Penn State police department doesn’t investigate something of that magnitude involving a Penn State, high-profile coach, who was still coaching, and not contact Penn State officials,” he said.
The fact university police ended their investigation without bringing charges, and the state welfare agency found no indication of sexual abuse in the 1988 complaint, meant Sandusky could continue working with young boys at his charity, his summer camps and at the nearby high school.
In his 2000 memoir, titled “Touched,” Sandusky, now 67, breathes no word of the 1998 investigation. But he does acknowledge in the months that followed, “I came to the realization that I was not destined to become head football coach at Penn State.” And so he retired.
But his departure remains clouded in mystery, leaving open the question whether Penn State gave him a push.
Many in the athletic community were stunned this admired assistant, who had long openly wished for a head coaching job and interviewed elsewhere, would just up and retire at 55. “You never expect coaches just to quit. They usually have another job to go to,” said George Patrick, an athletic department staffer who has since retired after 40 years at the school.
It made no sense. In 1998, Sandusky’s bruising defense was ranked 12th nationally.
Even Kip Richeal, a friend who co-authored “Touched,” was puzzled. “I tried to get it out of him: ‘Why are you retiring at 55?’ And he didn’t really talk about it.”
Some local news reports at the time cited an unexplained rift between Paterno and Sandusky.
Penn State took the public position Sandusky was retiring to devote more time to his charity for troubled children. Paterno’s wife Sue told the AP in a phone interview last week by then, “Jerry was more Second Mile than he was coach.”
Amendola, Sandusky’s lawyer, said Penn State superiors made no mention of the 1998 shower investigation when discussing his departure, and even offered to let Sandusky stay on — in his assistant coach position, as an administrator of minor sports or some other job. He said Sandusky preferred taking an early retirement financial package then available to other campus employees.
Schultz gave the grand jury a different explanation, testifying Paterno felt it was time to make a coaching change.
And Paterno’s wife, while not saying her husband had wanted Sandusky to leave, said he had been “comfortable” with the move.
The university showed it was more than comfortable with Sandusky’s retirement, giving him special honors as a professor emeritus. He was given a parking pass and was allowed to keep keys to the football facilities, with a personal office inside. As an esteemed guest, he was free to move openly around campus, where prosecutors say he kept abusing boys.
Such privileges are ostensibly rewards for good work — but are sometimes used as sweeteners to encourage someone to leave quietly.
The perks granted were extraordinary in some ways. Sandusky was promoted to assistant professor of intercollegiate athletics in 1975, in the days when coaches also were teachers. However, he remained in that lower rank throughout his career, never becoming a tenured associate professor.
Under university policy, assistant professors are not normally eligible for emeritus status, a special honor for “meritorious service” that is often accompanied by an office, parking and other benefits. In fact, Penn State records show, the honor was rarely given to associate professors, who rank higher than assistants.
The university president could make exceptions. However, they have been rare. Robert Secor, a retired vice provost who dealt with emeritus decisions, said the university tries not to set such precedents.
Between 1967 and 1997, two years before Sandusky left, Penn State honored 946 retiring faculty with emeritus status. Just one was an assistant professor, according to an AP review of the university’s commencement programs for those 31 years. From other sources, the AP learned of two other assistant professors who were accorded the title.
Secor said a professor doesn’t strictly need to have emeritus status to get an office in retirement. But he could not recall any professor who had been given one without the title.
The university announced one more sweetener when Sandusky retired: He was designated as a volunteer to the campus outreach programs — the umbrella for the school’s summer football camps where Sandusky could continue teaching gridiron skills to children.
Penn State has long cast itself as embodying the highest standards of personal conduct coupled with academic excellence, as captured in its school song: “May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” And few bled the school’s blue and white colors more than Sandusky, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there and began his Nittany Lions coaching career in 1969.
In retirement, Penn State football continued to play a big role in Sandusky’s life; he just wasn’t pacing the sidelines at games.
He received celebrity treatment from fans and faithful at home games, where he watched from a special Beaver Stadium box “almost like being an ambassador to Penn State,” said Richeal, Sandusky’s co-author.
It was there in plain sight, prosecutors say, Sandusky built relationships with the boys he would later attack. It was there he was still regarded with awe as part of the Penn State family and part of a community that proudly separated itself from the rest of college athletics.
Paterno ruled, and preferred handling problems internally.
“He was a tougher taskmaster” than others at the university, his wife said. “Anyone who knows Joe knows he doesn’t put up with anything. No one wants to be in Joe’s doghouse.”
But others saw the coach in a different way, as somehow above the rules that applied to everyone else.
Vicky Triponey was Penn State’s standards and conduct officer when she wrote an e-mail about the coach Aug. 12, 2005, that became a controversy when she released it after Sandusky’s arrest.
Her e-mail said Paterno was “insistent he knows best how to discipline his players ... and their status as a student when they commit violations of our standards should NOT be our concern ... and I think he was saying we should treat football players different from other students in this regard.”
She continued: “Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student codes, despite any moral or legal obligation to do so.”
When Triponey was called last week for comment about the reaction to her note, her husband explained she isn’t talking publicly about the e-mail anymore. He said she had received a letter from a Penn State lawyer taking issue with her characterizations.
“It flies in the face of transparency,” said Robert Meacham, Triponey’s husband, especially coming from a university that has pledged a new openness in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.
A university attorney did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.
Former Centre County district attorney Michael Madeira, who referred the 2008 case to the state attorney general’s office because his wife’s brother was Sandusky’s adopted son, recounted when he pursued charges against athletes and didn’t get much support from Penn State.
“I can’t say I was ever obstructed. But there were times when you knew you were going it alone,” he said. “It would have been nice to get support from the university, broadly, and I didn’t always feel that way. ... It’s amazing how many times people just happened to look the other way.”
With Sandusky’s reputation intact in retirement, along with that of Penn State and its highly respected football program, he interacted with thousands of young children in various Second Mile programs and summer camps on campus. He used his privileges to bring boys into the football buildings, continuing to shower with them, prosecutors say.
Again and again, university staff and administrators would get chances to intercede. Again and again, they would not.
In 2000, janitor James Calhoun found Sandusky showering in the Lasch Football Building with a boy described as being between 11 and 13, as the grand jury tells it. It was football season, and the team was away for a game.
Co-worker Ronald Petrosky testified he saw Sandusky and the boy walking down a hallway. “Sandusky took the boy’s hand, and the two of them walked out hand in hand.”
At that moment, Calhoun approached Petrosky in tears. Shaking and distraught, he said, “I just witnessed something in there I’ll never forget.” He said he had seen Sandusky performing oral sex on the child, according to the grand jury report.
Other janitors on duty joined the conversation, voicing concerns if they reported what Calhoun had told them, they all might lose their jobs.
According to the grand jury, Calhoun’s immediate supervisor then gave him the name of a higher-up that he could contact — “if he chose to report it.”
But no report was ever made, prosecutors say, adding Calhoun now suffers from dementia, and was unable to testify.
Attempts to reach Jay Witherite, the janitor’s boss, and still a Penn State employee, were unsuccessful.
The grand jury said the identity of the boy remains unknown.
Sandusky’s pattern of using coaches’ showers in the football building to molest boys continued, prosecutors argue. About 9:30 p.m. on March 1, 2002, the Friday before spring break, Sandusky was discovered by graduate assistant Mike McQueary raping a naked boy who had his hands pressed against the shower wall, the grand jury alleges.
Paterno, Curley, Schultz and university president Graham Spanier each learned of the incident, but the grand jury concluded they told no one except the head of Sandusky’s charity. Not the police. Not child welfare officials. Not even the university’s lawyer.
The grand jury cited this allegation in charging Schultz and Curley with lying under oath — about what McQueary told them, and with failing to report the incident to police or child welfare officials. Paterno has not been charged, though the disclosure he had been told of the allegation set off a firestorm, which led to his dismissal. Spanier has not been charged but has been forced out of office.
Curley testified he later privately told Sandusky, and the head of Second Mile, that he was banned from bringing boys on campus, although Curley also explained that the ban was unenforceable.
McQueary testified several weeks after his meeting with Curley and Schultz, Curley told him Sandusky’s keys to the Penn State locker room had been taken away.
In fact, Sandusky continued bringing boys to campus — and in a very public way.
Some time around 2005, Sandusky brought one boy to Penn State football games, according to the grand jury. It was the same boy, either 11 or 12 when he met Sandusky, who prosecutors said in new charges filed last week had cried out for help while being raped in the basement of the Sandusky home, hoping his wife would hear the wailing.
A lawyer said last week he represents another young man who is accusing Sandusky of assaulting him in 2004, when he was 12, in a Penn State football office, after giving him whiskey. That person is not among the accusers cited in the grand jury’s current charges.
Another accuser, whose case triggered the 2008 state investigation that led to criminal charges, said Sandusky took him to Philadelphia Eagles games and Penn State preseason practices, according to the grand jury report.
It was that boy’s complaint, made by school officials in neighboring Clinton County, that prompted a finding of abuse against Sandusky by the county child welfare agency. Sandusky couldn’t work as a volunteer coach last year at nearby Juniata College after the university became aware of the investigation in a background check.
The grand jury testimony about the aftermath of McQueary’s visit to the locker room that Friday night back in 2002 paints a disquieting picture of how an allegation of rape gradually came to be described as “horsing around.” The chronology of the parsing suggests volumes about the Penn State culture.
McQueary testified he told Paterno the next day, although Paterno said in a Nov. 6 statement McQueary “at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report.”
A day after Paterno heard the allegations, he called Curley to relay McQueary had seen Sandusky in the showers “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy,” according to the grand jury’s summary of Paterno’s testimony.
Paterno explained his actions in his recent statement: “As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.”
It took about 10 days for Curley to call McQueary into a meeting that included Schultz. McQueary testified he told the two men he had witnessed Sandusky having what he believed was anal sex with a young boy, about 10 years old.
Curley testified McQueary reported “inappropriate conduct” between Sandusky and the boy made him feel “uncomfortable,” but said nothing about “anything of a sexual nature whatsoever.”
Schultz testified he couldn’t remember exactly how McQueary described what he saw, “that he had the impression that Sandusky might have inappropriately grabbed the young boy’s genitals while wrestling.”
Schultz testified he and Curley informed Spanier an employee reported seeing Sandusky and a boy in an incident in campus showers.
Spanier testified he was told Sandusky and a boy “were horsing around in the shower.”
Regardless of the outcome of the criminal cases, reputations beyond Sandusky’s are ruined.
While defending her husband’s actions, Paterno’s wife hinted at frustration in the failure of Penn State to act aggressively in dealing with Sandusky in 2002. She said her husband, “one of the most moral people I know,” had expected those above him to deal with the matter properly.
She said prosecutors confirmed her husband “did the right thing,” and insisted he had never heard any details about other alleged incidents. “That’s the only thing he knew about. How can you wish you did more when you didn’t know anything?”
As for whether her husband should have done more, she said, “That’s not how it works. If they have another question, they get back to you. They were supposed to handle it.”
The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org