Myth 1: In 1998, Penn State covered up a report of, or should have done more in response to, a report of suspected child abuse against Jerry Sandusky.

Myth:

In 1998, Penn State covered up a report of, or should have done more in response to, a report of suspected child abuse against Jerry Sandusky.

Fact:

In 1998, there was an investigation performed by the child welfare authorities charged with investigating allegations of child abuse and numerous law enforcement officials. After that investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare determined that the report of suspected abuse was unfounded, and the Centre Court District Attorney concluded that that criminal charges were not appropriate. As a result, neither Penn State nor anyone else could take any negative action against Jerry Sandusky, as to do so would have been inconsistent with obligations under the law. There is absolutely no evidence of a cover up or interference by Penn State, and the fact that the matter was investigated not by Penn State, but by the appropriate child welfare agencies and the District Attorney, dispels any such notion.

Background:

On May 4, 1998, a report of suspected child abuse was made against Jerry Sandusky by the parent of a child Sandusky had contact with through The Second Mile. The report came from the mother of the child after she had consulted the child’s psychologist. An investigation was immediately commenced and the Centre County District Attorney’s office was notified. An Assistant District Attorney and the then-District Attorney both participated in the investigation. Ultimately, that same day, the matter was referred to Centre County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”), which was the child welfare agency charged with the responsibility of investigating claims of child abuse.

However, CYS referred the investigation to the Pennsylvania State Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”) because of a conflict of interest between CYS and The Second Mile. Because of Sandusky’s “high profile”, representatives of DPW in Harrisburg took the lead in the investigation. [Freeh Report at 43].

The DPW investigation included interviews of (1) the alleged victim; (2) the family of the alleged victim; (3) a second child who was purportedly another victim of Sandusky; and (4) Sandusky himself. It also included multiple psychological evaluations of the alleged victim and a covert operation that involved law enforcement officials hiding inside a closet and listening to a conversation between Sandusky and the alleged victim’s mother.

At the conclusion of that investigation, the Pennsylvania State Department of Public Welfare found no evidence of child abuse or criminal activity by Sandusky. Specifically, DPW concluded that “there seems to be no incident which could be termed to be sexual abuse, nor did there appear to be any pattern of logic and behavior which is usually consistent with adults who have difficulty with sexual abuse of children.” [Freeh Report at 44 (citing Police Report at 88)]. Moreover, the Centre County District Attorney determined that because there was no evidence of criminal activity, criminal charges were not appropriate. [Freeh Report at 46].

Pennsylvania law imposes significant limitations on the ability to take any negative action against an individual who is the subject of a complaint of alleged child abuse where an investigation determines the allegation to be unfounded. If DPW had concluded that child abuse was “indicated” (defined as “substantial evidence of abuse”), certain steps would necessarily have been taken under Pennsylvania law relative to Sandusky, most significantly related to notification and his employment. However, since the charge was not determined to be “indicated”, certain protections and limitations relative to the accused became applicable under the law. 23 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 6301-6385 (the “Child Protective Services Law); 55 Pa. Code §3490.1 et seq.

This is neither surprising nor unique: Pennsylvania and all other states recognize that unfounded allegations of child abuse can have substantial consequences. Thus, where there are unfounded allegations (as the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare concluded in 1998), the law protects those who have been accused. Here, since DPW, the state agency charged with responsibility for the investigation and determination, concluded that there was no substantive evidence of child abuse, those protections became applicable to Sandusky.

As a result, and contrary to the suggestions of the Freeh Report and the NCAA, not only would it have been improper for Penn State, or any individual at Penn State, to take negative action against Jerry Sandusky in 1998, it would have been illegal under the law. Thus, irrespective of the knowledge of the 1998 incident by Penn State, or any individual at Penn State, no negative action against Sandusky would have been permitted.

Accordingly, the suggestion within the Freeh Report, subsequently adopted by the NCAA, that Penn State was somehow responsible for a lack of action in 1998 is simply false. Such a suggestion is reckless at best and, at worst, represents a deliberate attempt to mislead.

More information about the 1998 Incident, and the failures associated with the investigation of that incident by child welfare and law enforcement officials, is contained within the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship Review of the Freeh Report at http://ps4rs.org/freeh.html

Download a PDF Copy of Myth 1:  http://www.ps4rs.org/docs/MythFact01.pdf

10 comments
  1. Richard Bishop said:

    Well stated. No one condemning Paterno or PSU seems to understand this.

  2. Judy said:

    Great idea to attack the falsehoods this way.

  3. Kevin said:

    These reports need be given attention by ESPN and all other media outlets that have reported falsely on the story. ESPN had no trouble reporting all day long Friday on espn radio that the charges against Bernie Fine were dropped. But then most of the reporters on espn went to Syracuse.

  4. Johnb212 said:

    Nice job. These are facts known by most Penn State people and by Pennsylvanias and there is a need to separate the fact from fiction and make public. It is still difficult to accept that Freeh stated knew these facts and stated them in a public document as facts. Even more difficult to understand the BOT accepting the Freeh report without comment.

  5. Carpenter John said:

    Whew!! This was really well done and very helpful. Also excellent way of presenting and wording the information. I’ve noticed that most people that I talk to (including some PSU Alumni) don’t seem to really understand much about any of the real or actual facts about this stuff. Shame on the news media mouthpiece!! Hail to ps4rs!!

  6. Brad 1973 said:

    While I completely agree with the commentary from a legal perspective, and I agree this entire issue has not been handled well by many of those involved, the thing that still bothers me is the institutional oversight that might have looked into Second Mile operations or taken other actions that may have simply distanced Penn State from Jerry Sandusky. Taking legal action may have been illegal but taking his keys to University property might have been acceptable.

  7. Michael Ramsey said:

    Thanks for this article; group members should share this on their personal facebook pages so friends who are not in PS4RS can have the kind of information they cannot get from national media at this point.

  8. KGB said:

    This is one of many myths. I like the myths that Paterno ran Penn State and State College, PA. Yes, it is true that in this day in age many head coaches of large Divison I Football programs could and sort of do run the town and University, but even that is blown out of proportion. You do not see a class act like Nick Saban running the University or the town surrounding the University. Nick Saban is the type of coach that if he found out one of his players or assistant coaches did something bad he would want them punished accordingly… and no not according to just his idea of punishment. (Although, people are correct in saying there are head coached out there who take advantage of and wield too much power).Paterno was the same way, and a Nick Saban type of coach, a class act. He was also old school. He never even desired to have all that power. It was given to him and he barley used it. Just as I am sure you can find someone at the University to say Paterno tried to override the administration and take it easy on his players and staff as far as punishment is concerned, you could probably find someone at Alabama to say the same about Nick Saban. These generally tend to be angry little people that quietly hate fun and were picked on in Junior High by a football player. I also find it funny that four (4) separate administrators, two of which that had no connection, or care of Joe Paterno that completely countered what Vicki Triponi said about Paterno trying to override what the University felt was proper punishment of aplyer, when a player got in trouble. Also, it turned out, she was the one with the checkered past. It is so true how in some cases the first person pointing fingers and yelling can be the most guilty or have something to hide even if just a major character flaw. That is Vicki. Finally, i like how the National Media with all of their journalistic abilities could not even uncover or report these facts. Another fact, several attorneys on behalf of several victims made statements including the ideas that the University was unfairly punished, that they still respect the University and all the great things done by the University, the students, staff and alumni (with the obvious exception of Tim Curly, Gary Shultz and Grahm Spanier) and that they did not feel Joe Paterno was at fault. One the the victims even made a statement through his attorney along the lines of “He was just the coach”. These victims are not only victims but at their young ages are smarter than the majority of the national media and Mark Emmert.

  9. 1. The mother of the alleged victim referred the matter to University Park police prior to meeting with psychologist Dr. Alycia Chambers. The mother reported the incident to the police at approximately 11:25 AM. She and her son visited Dr. Chambers at 3PM.

    2. There is no provision in the law for referral of a child abuse case to DPW on the grounds that it involves a high profile individual. Furthermore, the law (Pa. 055 3490) states that CYS is the only entity that may conduct child abuse investigations, unless the subject of an investigation is an “agent” of the county. In 1998, by virtue of his association with Second Mile, Sandusky was considered an “agent” of the county, thus the matter had to be referred to DPW for investigation. (The Freeh Report is repeating incorrect statements made in the grand jury presentment).

  10. 1. A group of PSU housing employees witnessed Jerry Sandusky leaving a PSU building after showering. He was carrying a gym bag in one hand, and a young boy’s hand was in the other. This occurred no later than August, 1996.

    2. Prior to August, 1996, PSU housing employees checking into work on the weekend were told to be on the alert for missing boys underwear in the dormitory areas – and did not offer information about why.

    3. Housing Supervisors were aggressively collecting reports of sightings of Jerry Sandusky in housing before August, 1996, and did not offer any information as to why they asked so many questions.

    4. President Spanier received an email letter in January, 1999, in which he was warned about the seriousness of an event that occurred over the mishandling of child care clearances. Student advocate, Jose Texidor, assisted the student in writing the letter. The letter was posted on the campus listserve – permitting everyone on the campus to read the warning regarding the child care clearances. The student was failed, and removed from the degree program, and later terminated from employment, particularly because of posting the Spanier letter on the campus listserve. PSU Dean of Undergraduate Education, Dr. John Cahir, after announcing the student’s educational appeal was denied on December 24, 1998, advised the student that they would need to hire an attorney if they were to find out the core allegations surrounding (a very unprofessionally handled accusation) regarding a “confidentiality violation”, for innocent pictures of children – requested by a grandparent in attendance – that had never been developed – all of this coming out AFTER the student was failed and removed. It was never admitted that the University failed to provide the student’s clearances to the agency, which operated under DPW. The incident occurred in June, 1998, one month after the May 1998 initial DPW investigation of Jerry Sandusky began. The University never admitted negligence in collecting the mandatory Pa State Police Child Care Clearances, and enforced corporal punishment, without ever providing an explanation as to why this was necessary to do to a student entering their fourth year of education at Penn State. Penn State enforced disciplinary measures in the student’s employment for protesting the student grade change and failure, and denied the employee the right to mention any earned benefits of employment, ie student issues, in greivances and in arbitration. Although $103,000 was spent appealing all the way to the US Supreme Court, the terminated employee was never permitted to use the word education in any complaint. A day in court was never had, and the coverup continued the entire way to the US Supreme Court, where a request to reopen was refused.

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