Copyright 2013 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
October 8, 2013 Tuesday
NEWS; Pg. 1A
|Sandusky sex abuse case extended;
"Victim 1" and mother say high school did not handle it correctly
LOCK HAVEN, PA. - In the 23 months since former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was unmasked as a child predator, the university's leadership has undergone a wholesale transformation.
The school ousted once-popular President Graham Spanier. He stands charged with obstruction and perjury related to the scandal. Athletic Director Tim Curley also awaits trial for lying to a state grand jury, as does former vice president Gary Schultz, who oversaw the campus police department. And Joe Paterno, the once-iconic football coach forced from the field in the days after the charges were made public against his longtime assistant, is dead.
Yet 40 miles north of State College, at Central Mountain High School, where the stunning criminal inquiry was launched and where Sandusky served as a volunteer football coach, everything has remained, remarkably, unchanged.
Perhaps not for long.
Investigators with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office are quietly moving to review the actions of school officials as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the handling of the Sandusky investigation.
Dawn Hennessy, the mother of the young victim who initiated the criminal inquiry against Sandusky, told USA TODAY that the special counsel heading the state investigation recently requested privacy waivers from the family so investigators could begin questioning school authorities. They want to learn about the school's initial response to the claims of abuse leveled by her son, Aaron Fisher, once known as Sandusky's "Victim 1."
Among the school officials whose actions have drawn specific criticism from Hennessy and Michael Gillum, a former county psychologist who counseled Hennessy's son, is Central Mountain Principal Karen Probst. The psychologist has been openly critical of school officials since Sandusky, who is now serving at least 30 years in prison, was first named as the suspect in the case.
USA TODAY has learned that shortly after being notified of the abuse claims against Sandusky, Probst alerted local youth authorities to expect a visit from Hennessy and her son. According to a person familiar with the communication, Probst suggested that youth authorities regard the mother and son's complaints with suspicion.
The person, who asked not to be identified out of fear of possible retaliation, said that the contents of the call were not reported to state youth authorities at the time, but the witness said an account of the incident has since been provided to a state investigator.
Hennessy, meanwhile, said she was approached in August by Geoffrey Moulton, appointed in February by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to lead an overall review of the Sandusky investigation. The mother said Moulton, a former federal prosecutor, was seeking access to "all records and correspondence" related to the family's discussions with the school that were previously protected by privacy laws.
"I told him it was about time," Hennessy said of her unscheduled meeting with Moulton at the national Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas, where Fisher's keynote address took specific aim at Central Mountain school officials.
Those school officials, Fisher told the gathering of law enforcement authorities and abuse counselors, "branded me ... a liar."
"You are supposed to report suspicion of abuse without questioning," Fisher said. "My school did not do that. They told me to go home, to think about the repercussions. As you can imagine, that was heartbreaking."
School district officials, including Probst, did not respond to multiple requests for comment relayed by telephone and e-mail as well as in a visit to the school district's offices. The district's lawyer, David Lindsay, declined to comment during a visit to his Lock Haven office and by telephone Monday.
Kane also declined to comment on the specific lines of the ongoing inquiry. But she said the review would "not exclude anyone.''
"Anyone who had any role in this case, we're looking at,'' Kane told USA TODAY. "If there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, then I will tell the public that. If it becomes a criminal matter, then we will proceed on a criminal matter."
'MOM, THEY DON'T BELIEVE ME'
Any review of the school's actions will likely center on a series of communications involving Hennessy, Fisher and school officials in November 2008.
School officials and the school district's lawyer won't comment on any aspect of those communications, but details of the interactions have been provided to USA TODAY by Hennessy and others, whose accounts are in part supported in court records that outlined the initial charges against Sandusky.
That November, Hennessy recalled contacting Probst about "a gut feeling'' that something was amiss involving her son and Sandusky, who had devoted unusual attention to the boy during a period of almost four years, as well as to other boysinvolved in the former coach's Second Mile charity for at-risk children.
Probst, Hennessy recalled, said it was "not abnormal" for Sandusky to remove Second Mile children from class to counsel them. Fisher was one of those kids, but Hennessy says now that she had never provided the school consent for such meetings between the then-volunteer coach and her son.
Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Steven Turchetta, according to the 2011 Pennsylvania grand jury report that first detailed the allegations against Sandusky, would later confirm that it was "not unusual" for him to retrieve the children from school activities "at Sandusky's request, to see Sandusky."
Turchetta also would later tell the grand jury that Sandusky would be "clingy" and "needy" when a young man broke off the relationship, a behavior that the assistant principal described as "suspicious," according to court documents.
Two days after her contact with Probst, Hennessy said, she was summoned to the high school, where her worst fears about Sandusky's relationship with her son were confirmed.
There, Hennessy found the principal, a school guidance counselor and her distraught son, who tearfully acknowledged in then-unspecific terms that Sandusky had engaged him in inappropriate sexual conduct. The actual abuse of Fisher, according to the later grand jury report, had been taking place for about four years.
"I just wanted to make him (Sandusky) stop," Hennessy said, recalling her son's halting words. "I just wanted to make him stop."
Hennessy said she became angry and demanded - about three times, she recalls -that school officials "call the police."
However, according to Hennessy, Probst cautioned the mother that she "needed to think about how this was going to affect the (boy's) family." Hennessy said Probst also mentioned that Sandusky had "a heart of gold."
Hennessy said Probst made the statements in the presence of her son, who then told his mother: "Mom, they don't believe me."
"That was probably the last straw," Hennessy said, adding that she told Probst that she was leaving with her son to make an immediate report to youth authorities.
Hennessy and Fisher then left for the Clinton County Children and Youth Services offices in downtown Lock Haven.
Before they arrived, Probst called the county office in an apparent attempt to undermine the family's claims. A person familiar with the call told USA TODAY that just minutes before the family arrived, Probst suggested that the office regard Hennessy's claims with a grain of salt, making a reference to Hennessy's volatile personality.
The person, who also is familiar with the principal and the victim's family, said the communication was not immediately reported because the person was not aware of the substance of the complaint or that it involved Sandusky.
The person said the account was ultimately provided to a state investigator. The investigator declined to comment when contacted by USA TODAY.
According to the 2011 grand jury report, the school did eventually make a report of the Sandusky abuse to youth authorities, "as mandated by law."
Michael Boni, one of the lawyers representing Fisher, said he had not been made aware of the call before the school filed its official abuse report. "If this is true, it strikes me as a violation of the spirit of the law if not the letter of the reporting requirement," Boni said. "If you are calling the authorities, to whom you are required to report abuse, and you are telling them not to take it seriously, you are defeating the whole process."
State law requires educators, among a roster of so-called mandated reporters, to "immediately notify'' school leadership "when they have reasonable cause to suspect ... that the child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse.''
Once the school leader is notified, according to the law, that person has the "legal obligation" to notify youth authorities. Oral reports are to be made "immediately" to a child abuse hotline. Written reports are required 48 hours after the hotline reports.
Dawn Hennessy says she has other questions about the episode.
Why was her son removed from class to meet with Sandusky without her consent or knowledge? What happened to the other boys who were removed from class?Why did the principal, after learning of the initial abuse claim against Sandusky, allegedly caution the family to think about the implications of such a report? Why was the caution delivered in the presence of Fisher?
"I'm not going to let it go," Hennessy said.
Among some members of the community of about 10,000 people, the matter also remains anything but settled. "Did they (school officials) have a more direct moral responsibility to protect the victim? Probably,'' said Robert Rolley, publisher of The Express, a local newspaper that continues to report on the issue.
Sandusky "duped them (school officials) just like he duped everyone else. I can't think of anyone who has done so much damage on a national level and local level. The damage here is to the school district's image."
Key dates in the Sandusky child sexual abuse investigation.
Aaron Fisher, first identified in court documents as "Victim 1," meets Sandusky via the former coach's Second Mile charity at age 11 or 12.
Sandusky begins spending time with Fisher, having him stay overnight at his residence in College Township, Pa.
Fisher tells Clinton County, Pa., youth authorities that Sandusky abused him. The report prompts a criminal investigation by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.
Child abuse charges against Sandusky are announced by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. Separate criminal charges related to an alleged coverup also are announced against three university administrators.
June: Sandusky convicted on 45 criminal counts related to the abuse of 10 victims.
July: Penn State's independent investigation into the scandal found "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State."
October: Sandusky sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
A Pennsylvania appeals court upholds Sandusky's conviction, denying a request for a new trial.
October 8, 2013