An investigator who looked into a 1998 complaint against former Penn State University football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky says there wasn’t enough evidence to take action then -- and he is sorry it took so long to bring charges against the man now accused of molesting eight boys from 1994 through 2009.
Jerry Lauro, who worked for the state’s Public Welfare Department, reviewed a complaint about Sandusky showering with a boy in a university locker room. Lauro dropped the case after concluding that while Sandusky’s actions at the time were inappropriate, the boy didn’t make allegations of sexual abuse and there wasn’t yet a pattern of complaints, he said.
“You ask yourself, ‘Did I do everything I could at the time?’ Yeah,” Lauro, 58, who retired in 2006, said in an interview. “You make your decision based on available evidence at the time.”
Pennsylvania investigates and acts on fewer child-abuse cases than the national average, Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Harrisburg-based Protect Our Children Committee, said by telephone yesterday.
The state probes 8.3 complaints for every 1,000 children in the population, compared with a national rate of 40.3 per thousand, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Pennsylvania determines there is abuse in 1.4 cases per thousand, compared with the U.S. average of 9.3 per thousand, the report said.
Corbett Expects Change
Governor Tom Corbett, who helped lead a new investigation of Sandusky when he was attorney general in 2009, said he expects the state’s lawmakers to toughen scrutiny of child abuse before the end of the year. The Legislature may pass a joint resolution next month creating a bipartisan commission to make recommendations for changes in state law, said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
“One of the lessons that we need to learn from this is that when people see something like this, or hear about something like this, you need to investigate right away,” Corbett said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” last week. “We have lost the focus of what’s in the best interest of the child.”
Detectives from the police departments of Penn State and the town of State College, Pennsylvania, also investigated the 1998 allegations against Sandusky, and the local district attorney declined to file charges, according to a grand-jury report. Sandusky went on to abuse other boys, including sexually assaulting one in a shower at the Penn State football complex in March 2002, the report said.
The inconclusive 1998 investigation shows that Pennsylvania needs to change its narrow definition of what constitutes child abuse and when it must be reported, said Jennifer Storm, executive director of the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg.
“This to me would have been a really good criminal case,” she said. “Why didn’t this go to court? Unfortunately, we may never know the answer.”
Many of the complaints Pennsylvania declines to act on would be considered abuse in other states, said Rachel P. Berger, a pediatrician and child-abuse researcher in Pittsburgh. Berger and the Protect Our Children advocacy organization are calling for a comprehensive review of state laws related to child abuse.
‘Prevent This Situation’
“If one good thing comes out of all this bad, hopefully as a state we will find a way to prevent this kind of situation from occurring,” Berger said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Thirteen years after Lauro’s investigation, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office charged Sandusky, 67, on Nov. 5 with 40 criminal counts tied to alleged sexual molestation of eight boys from 1994 to 2009. Penn State coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham B. Spanier were fired Nov. 9, and Jack Raykovitz, president and chief executive of the Second Mile charity for needy children that Sandusky founded in 1977, resigned last week.
Second Mile didn’t move to limit Sandusky’s access to children until November 2008, when he told them he was being investigated on allegations made by a teenage boy, according to the charity’s website. Second Mile’s Raykovitz learned in 2002 about the incident involving Sandusky and a boy in the Penn State football showers, the grand-jury report said.
The statement on Second Mile’s website said university officials told Raykovitz that someone reported being “uncomfortable about seeing Jerry Sandusky in the locker room shower with a youth” and that the foundation wasn’t aware “of the very serious allegations contained in the grand-jury report” -- that Sandusky was sexually assaulting the boy. Raykovitz didn’t return a telephone call yesterday seeking additional comment.
Sandusky, who was a top defensive assistant for Paterno until 1999, said in a Nov. 14 interview with NBC’s Bob Costas that he isn’t a pedophile and denied the charges against him.
According to the grand-jury report, a 24-year-old man identified as “Victim 6” testified that he met Sandusky at a Second Mile picnic when he was 7 or 8 years old in 1994 or 1995.
In 1998, Victim 6 said Sandusky picked him up at his home to work out at the university and, after lifting weights, Sandusky began wrestling with him and said they needed to shower, “even though Victim 6 was not sweaty,” the grand-jury report said.
“Victim 6 felt awkward and tried to go to a shower some distance away from Sandusky but Sandusky called him over, saying he had already warmed up a shower for the boy,” the report said. “While in the shower, Sandusky approached the boy, grabbed him around the waist and said, ‘I’m going to squeeze your guts out.’ Sandusky lathered up the boy, soaping his back because, he said, the boy would not be able to reach it. Sandusky bear-hugged the boy from behind, holding the boy’s back against his chest.”
When the boy returned home, his mother noticed his wet hair and “was upset to learn the boy had showered with Sandusky,” according to the grand-jury-report. She reported the incident to university police, the report said.
Lauro said he interviewed both the boy and Sandusky in 1998 and both told the same story: they had showered together. The boy did not accuse Sandusky of assaulting him, so without any other evidence, Lauro determined it didn’t meet the state’s criteria for abuse, he said.
“It raised a red flag, but not to the level of child abuse -- perhaps a boundary issue,” Lauro said. “I knew it was inappropriate, but I didn’t think it was child abuse.”
The grand-jury report describes how Ronald Schreffler, a university police detective, and Ralph Ralston, a State College police detective, eavesdropped on two conversations the mother had with Sandusky in May 1998. She asked Sandusky whether his “private parts” touched her son during the bear hug and Sandusky replied, “I don’t think so … maybe,” according to the report.
“I was wrong,” Sandusky told the mother, according to the grand-jury report. “I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”
Lauro said he wasn’t told about the eavesdropping until after the case was closed. When Costas asked him about the comments, Sandusky replied, “I didn’t say, to my recollection, that I wish I were dead. I was hopeful that we could reconcile things.”
Reached at their homes last week in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, both Schreffler and Ralston declined to comment.
The investigation was closed after Ray Gricar, the Centre County district attorney at the time, decided there would be no criminal charges, the report said. Gricar disappeared April 15, 2005, and his laptop hard drive was found in the Susquehanna River, too damaged to be read, according to a Nov. 6 story by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Lauro was assigned the case because there was a conflict of interest with the Centre County Office of Children and Youth Services, which usually would handle such a review, he said. Lauro said he doesn’t know what the conflict was, and Centre County Administrator Denise L. Elbell said in a Nov. 21 interview she has no records documenting the case and can’t speculate. The county had a contract with Second Mile to place foster children in the charity’s group home, and that relationship ended in 1991, Elbell said.
Conflict of Interest
The Pennsylvania Public Welfare Department declined to comment on the case. Spokeswoman Carey Miller said in an e-mail that a conflict of interest arises when a party to the case is an “agent of the county agency,” or someone who “provides a children and youth social service either directly or under contract or through agreement with a county agency.” That could include foster parents and staff and volunteers of residential child-care facilities, she said.
Lauro said he didn’t hear more about the allegations against Sandusky until the grand-jury investigation surfaced in the Patriot-News in March. He said he hasn’t been contacted by authorities and wishes more could have been done sooner.
“I feel bad for those mothers,” Lauro said. “If I thought there was child abuse, I would have done something.”