The 1998 Sandusky Investigation: Home Field Advantage


The latest disclosure of the 1998 Penn State University Police Report investigation, delivers a devastating body blow to Jerry Sandusky, and underscores the lingering question: why was the case so badly fumbled 13 years ago? The police report provides a window into the power of the football culture at Penn State. At the time of this investigation, Sandusky had served for 23 years as the defensive coordinator for Penn State football and was soon to be the successor to the Joe Paterno dynasty. While the heir apparent was quietly waiting in the wings for Paterno’s crown, the investigative report describes that Coach Jerry was also lurking in the locker room showering naked with young boys.

From a seasoned child advocate’s perspective, the investigation raises more questions than answers, and clearly demonstrates that there was evidence to arrest and charge Jerry Sandusky 13 years ago. The investigative report reads like a grooming playbook for child predators. Yet, strangely, the case was precipitously closed.  Why? Did Jerry Sandusky possess the home field advantage and were the child victim and his mother  stiffed armed by the home team? It’s time to cry ‘foul.’

The investigation was doomed from the start. The first call about the Sandusky shower incident was made to the Penn State campus police department. Rather, it would have been advisable to call the state child abuse hotline, or the state police or even the local police. By reporting child abuse allegations to campus police, the home field advantage was secured by Sandusky whose his chief investigators were fellow PSU employees.

Although child welfare investigators were also brought in, the primary police assigned to the investigation were PSU campus police. When the Penn State campus police received the initial report, they surely knew the importance of Jerry Sandusky to PSU, and even more, they were acutely aware of the potential public relations disaster surrounding the allegations.  The university police should have immediately recused and handed the investigation over to another independent and trained law enforcement agency since their participation in the investigation raised the specter of a serious conflict of interest. Moreover, the PSU campus police force were not qualified to investigate the highly specialized child abuse allegations which required the skill and experience of child forensic interviewers.

The proof is readily apparent on the very face of the report.  On the first page, PSU police identify Sandusky’s affiliation to PSU as simply “Staff.” There is no reference to his influential position on the PSU football team, even though the alleged abuse occurred in the Penn State football locker room. Ironically, there are more references to “his affiliation to Second Mile” than there are to his prestigious position at PSU. Why is this important? Normally, any skilled child abuse investigation describes the title, role, and responsibility of the alleged perpetrator so that access to children can be fully explored and possible witnesses identified for interviews.

The next red flag in the report is the description under the section entitled, “incident type/offense.” That important box is filled in by the reporting officer as “Administrative Information.” Oh, really? Is that the Penn State police description for the offense of child molestation? Why would police defuse and minimize serious and explosive allegations of child sexual abuse by using the innocuous term as administrative information? By downplaying his employment status as simply, “staff” or “staff member” and obscuring the alleged offense, it appears they were ensuring that this was going to be a low key investigation.

The campus police knew Jerry Sandusky’s role as the founder and major volunteer in a children’s charity for high risk kids. They knew that there were at least two boy victims from Second Mile alleging sexual exploitation by Coach Jerry. These disclosures should have immediately triggered a mass molestation investigation.  Jerry lavished gifts on both, showered naked with both on the university campus, and spent time alone with both boys.

Investigators should have immediately notified Second Mile and conducted random multiple interviews of boys of the same age and contacted past participants of Second Mile. This is standard investigating policy and procedures in child abuse investigations when an alleged perpetrator had access to several children. It is both curious and troubling that this obvious investigative technique was not initiated in 1998.  The report mentions no contact with any members of Second Mile. The report is void of any attempt to look for other victims or expand the child abuse investigation to corroborate the allegations. In the words of the report, this was treated as a routine matter for the purposes of “administrative information.”

There are other glaring omissions in the investigative report. Why wasn’t the football coaching staff interviewed? After all, this was the footballdefensive coordinator bringing young boys to the football locker room and showering naked with children. Investigators should have determined if anyone on the football staff witnessed this behavior with these particular boys or other boys from Second Mile?  Why didn’t the investigators look for corroborating witnesses to either support or refute the allegations? They treated these serious allegations as ordinary “administrative information” of a “staff member,” instead of criminal sexual assault of a child by the defensive coordinator of the football team.

Within the first days of the investigation, the campus police received an explosive report from Dr. Alycia Chambers, a licensed psychologist who was the victim boy’s treating therapist. Her report confirmed the child’s allegations and described in detail Sandusky’s behavior as “likely pedophiliac.” Thus, the university police were on notice that children were potentially at great risk in the presence of Sandusky since a child abuse expert identified Sandusky, a university employee, as a likely pedophile.

With the expert report in hand, the police should have contacted the District Attorney, who should have convened a grand jury, and immediately notified Second Mile Charity, the PSU administration, and searched for additional victims. Instead, the police hired John Seasock who wasn’t a licensed psychologist at the time, and provided police with the opinion that Sandusky’s conduct with the boy was not indicative of sexual abuse. Seasock rendered this opinion without any background information or documentation on the case.

With two dueling reports, one by a qualified and knowledgeable expert, the other not highly credentialed, campus police chose to accept the less qualified counselor. They believed the therapist who reported, “all the interactions reported by the boy can be typically as normal between a healthy adult and a young adolescent male.”  The police didn’t bother to look for other boy victims, but they looked and found an expert that thought Jerry Sandusky was a “healthy adult.” “Healthy” is defined as an unrelated man showering naked with a 10 year old boy, hugging the little boy while showering, and picking the naked boy up to wash his hair.

These are the campus police who are charged with protecting the 44,000 students on the Penn State campus.

Unlike John Seasock, the mother of victim #6 knew that Jerry Sandusky was not a healthy adult.  She was not intimidated by the powerful collegiate icons.  She was a mother who trusted her gut, and a mother who tenaciously tracked down the man who showered with her son. Now, 13 years later, Sandusky is finally criminally charged for his alleged actions with her son and others. Her protective maternal instinct for her son’s safety was palpable; it jumped off the pages of the police report. Every time, Jerry Sandusky phoned her son to arrange an outing, Mother notified the investigative team. Like a mother lion she protected her cub.

This mother stopped further contact of her son by Sandusky, but she was unable to stop Sandusky. That was the duty of the police, they failed. That was the duty of child welfare, they failed. That was the duty of the Second Mile Charity Board, they failed. That was the duty of the District Attorney, he failed.  That was the duty of Penn State, they failed.

The Sandusky investigation and case was abruptly closed on June 3, 1998, with no child abuse charges being filed against Sandusky.  Less than 4 weeks later, Jerry Sandusky shocked the collegiate football world and unexpectedly resigned as the Penn State defensive coordinator, effective at the end of the football season. Was the timing of his resignation just coincidental? Was his resignation a surreptitious plea deal in lieu of filing criminal charges?  His departure from Penn State football was eerily low key.

All the powerful people in State College wouldn’t stop Jerry Sandusky. Tragically, no one listened to the mother. How many more boys would have been protected? Next time, listen to a mother lion, instead of a Nittany Lion.

ArticleLara Barger