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

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