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The District Attorney and the Penn State Cover-up

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One of the most troubling features in an otherwise commendable report by Louis Freeh on the Penn State sex scandal is the failure to closely examine why the district attorney of Centre County, Roy Gricar, in May 1998, did not prosecute Jerry Sandusky for crimes of sexual abuse. Compelling evidence existed to charge Sandusky. The campus police had interviewed at least two boys who described Sandusky's sexual abuse, and Sandusky made several incriminating admissions. The district attorney knew all of these facts, but closed the case abruptly without conducting any investigation. The 267-page Freeh report contains just two short paragraphs referring to, but not explaining, the district attorney's decision. Interestingly, one of the key findings in the Freeh report states that if University officials had taken more aggressive action against Sandusky in 1998, Sandusky's numerous post-1998 sexual assaults "might have been prevented." However, to me, had Sandusky been effectively prosecuted in 1998 as he should have been, his future assaults "would (not "might") have been prevented," many young boys would have been saved from Sandusky's horrendous conduct, and Penn State's integrity and reputation would not have been so severely tarnished.

As described in the Freeh report and the 2011 Grand Jury Presentment, the University police department in May 1998 conducted a lengthy investigation after the mother of one of the boys reported to the campus police that Sandusky had sexually abused her son. University Detective Ronald Schreffler interviewed the 11-year-old who said that Sandusky brought him to the football locker room where they wrestled, then exercised, after which Sandusky kissed the boy's head and said "I love you." They then went to the coach's locker room where they showered (the boy was very reluctant), during which Sandusky wrapped his arms around the boy's chest in a bear-hug and exclaimed: "I'm gonna squeeze your guts out." Sandusky then lifted the boy off the floor to get soap out of his hair, the boy's back touching Sandusky's chest. Sandusky admitted in two conversations with the boy's mother, which were overheard by Schreffler, that he showered with other young boys, that he knew it was wrong, that "maybe" his "private parts" touched the boys, that he wanted "forgiveness," and that "I wish I were dead." This boy identified another boy, BK, whom Schreffler interviewed, and who described nearly identical conduct by Sandusky in the shower. There is also an indication that both boys told Schreffler of other boys taken by Sandusky into University facilities, and, indeed, one of the findings in the Freeh report is that several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys.

Schreffler contacted the district attorney's office, and had at least two meetings with Assistant District Attorney Karen Arnold in which Schreffler outlined the facts of his investigation. What Schreffler's file actually contains is unclear, but we can reasonably assume that at the very least, he shared all of the above information with Arnold. We have an added reason to believe that Schreffler gave the prosecutor a complete accounting of his investigation -- Schreffler acknowledged that he went to the district attorney's office because of the sensitivity of the allegations against Sandusky and to avoid having to deal with University officials.

Despite substantial evidence accusing Sandusky of sexual misconduct, the district attorney in late May decided abruptly to close the case, followed immediately by the order of University police chief Thomas Harmon to Schreffler to close his investigation and to omit labeling the file as a "criminal entry" but refer instead to the file as an "Administrative Information" file, and not to report the matter to the University's office of Human Resources, although such reports were routinely made to that office in other similar cases.

Why did the district attorney close the case so quickly? The district attorney's office had not interviewed any of the victims, had not questioned Sandusky, had not spoken to the licensed psychologist who interviewed the boy and who concluded that Sandusky met all of the definitions of a pedophile's pattern of building trust and the gradual introduction of physical touching within the context of a loving special relationship.

One interesting question in the case is why it was decided, and who made the decision, to have the boy re-interviewed by another psychologist, John Seasock, while the district attorney's office was reviewing Schreffler's report. Seasock had a contract to provide counseling services to the Centre County Youth Services (CYS), but he had an obvious conflict of interest, since CYS had contracts with Second Mile, the charity founded by Sandusky to help troubled young boys but which became a program where Sandusky found his victims. Seasock's report is mind-boggling. Even though he later admitted to Schreffler that he was unaware of many of the facts in the case, Seasock concluded that there was no evidence of sexual abuse, that Sandusky did not fit the profile of a pedophile, that he never heard of a 52-year-old man becoming a pedophile, and that he did not want to cast "dispersion" (huh?) on Sandusky. The Freeh report suggests that Seasock's conclusions may have influenced the district attorney's decision to close the case. However, Seasock's involvement also may have been arranged to give the district attorney an excuse, however flimsy and even fraudulent, to support his decision not to prosecute.

Freeh understandably was focused on the conduct of the University officials in covering up Sandusky's despicable conduct, rather than on the failure of the district attorney to bring criminal charges. Also, it appears that prosecutor Arnold refused to be interviewed by Freeh's team. And, in an astonishing development which makes the district attorney's failure even more mysterious, Gricar disappeared in 2005, and like Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa, has never been heard from since, and has been declared legally dead. He appeared to be obsessed with how to wreck a hard drive, and his laptop was found in the Susquehanna River without its hard drive. Gricar was known as a thorough prosecutor, but the big question at the time was whether he was willing to take on an icon and a powerful university.

Given the substantial proof of Sandusky's criminal conduct known to the district attorney, including Sandusky's own admissions of guilt, there is only one reasonable hypothesis to explain why Gricar abruptly buried the case without undertaking any further investigation of the allegations. Just as the University heavy weights, including Joe Paterno, circled the wagons and conspired to cover up Sandusky's crimes -- which the Freeh report overwhelmingly establishes -- so too did District Attorney Gricar distance himself from what he knew would be an ugly, inflammatory, and uncertain prosecution. Instead of confronting Goliath, Gricar ran away.