Penn State case still going

Penn State case still going

Just pick up the phone.

The Penn State child molestation case continues to reverberate across the country, more proof that people in high places can fall hard if they react incorrectly when allegations of wrongdoing are brought to their attention.

Two former high-ranking university officials this week pleaded guilty to criminal charges that alleged they turned a blind eye when a claim of sexual misconduct by former university assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was made.

Two things are clear about the plea agreement under which former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment.

The first is that prosecutors weren't confident they could win felony convictions against the two men, deciding to limit their risks by offering a plea agreement on a far less serious charge.

The second is that Curley and Schultz were concerned enough about their culpability to take the deal rather than risk going to trial.

A third defendant, former PSU President Graham Spanier, now faces trial alone. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next week, and it will be interesting to see if his two former subordinates testify against their boss.

What's striking about the legal controversy involving these three men is that much of the Sandusky disaster could have been avoided if, instead of trying to deal with the Sandusky allegations alone, they had simply called in the proper authorities to conduct a real police investigation. Instead, they conducted a halting probe, but mostly wrote off the complaint without really looking into it.

There was much more — and would be much more — to it than they ever believed possible.

The Sandusky case broke wide open in late 2012, when the retired Penn State football coach was charged in connection with a series of child molestations.

The Sandusky scandal, however, morphed into a Penn State scandal when it was revealed that a former football assistant observed Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy in the Penn State football team's locker room in 2001 and told head coach Joe Paterno about it.

Paterno said he informed Curley and Schultz, and they, in turned, told Spanier. The matter died there, allowing Sandusky many more years to prey on young boys.

Why did three intelligent, accomplished university officials basically ignore the serious accusation brought to their attention?

Obviously, they didn't grasp its serious nature, essentially writing off the accusation as some kind of bizarre exaggeration. They didn't believe it because they simply couldn't believe the tawdry nature of the accusation. Further, they were so skeptical that it didn't occur to them to bring in professional investigators to conduct a proper inquiry.

Used to making decisions, none of the three realized that this wasn't their call to make. Police conduct criminal investigations, not university administrators. Prosecutors decide whether criminal charges are appropriate, not university administrators.

Their lapse of judgment ultimately proved catastrophic. The most obvious victims are the children who might have been spared Sandusky's predations.

Coach Paterno was unceremoniously fired. The university was put on probation by the NCAA and paid out millions in civil damages. Spanier, Curley and Schultz were dismissed.

It all could have been avoided if these men had been more familiar with what their obligations were instead of foolishly dismissing the matter without a police investigation.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the final piece of the puzzle fits. Spanier contends that he was too insufficiently informed about the nature of the problem to be held criminally responsible, that he left the matter to Curley and Schultz to handle.

Once considered the leading university president in the prestigious Big 10 conference, Spanier is vigorously contesting the charges against him. He's entitled to do so, and he may win an acquittal if this case goes to trial.

Whatever the result, this controversy serves as another useful reminder to higher-ups to call the proper authorities when allegations of criminal behavior are brought to their attention.

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rsp wrote on March 15, 2017 at 10:03 am

The first is that prosecutors weren't confident they could win felony convictions against the two men, deciding to limit their risks by offering a plea agreement on a far less serious charge.

They could get 5 years for not making a phone call. They ignored children being raped. But yes, they were confused? Is that what you're trying to say? From what I read in the pepers, including this one, prosecutors make plea deals every day. Sometimes it has nothing to do with how good or bad the case is, or even if the person is guilty or innocent. Sometimes it's about just getting it over with and moving on. Sometimes it's about coming to the conclusion you did something wrong and reaching a deal.