The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

July 28, 2012

Federal law violations contributed to Sandusky abuse

The Back Porch

One chapter of the Freeh Report deals with Penn State’s failure to follow the federal Clery Act in reporting its investigations into complaints of former football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys.

That chapter should receive the media’s and the public’s full attention and not be relegated to a footnote in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report. Fully vetting that aspect of the cover-up is vital to discovering other crimes committed on the nation’s campuses.

The Clery Act, passed in 1990, is named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman who was brutally raped and murdered at her campus residence hall in 1986 by another student. Her parents turned their grief into a crusade to require the nation’s campuses to track and report crime. The nation’s colleges and universities are required to submit to the U.S. Department of Education and the public an annual crime report on Oct. 1 detailing the number and types of crimes reported each year.

Other requirements include maintaining a public log of all crimes reported to them and issuing timely warnings for immediate campus safety threats.

Within days of the Sandusky grand jury revelations last November, the U.S. Department of Education issued a news release saying it would conduct an investigation into Clery Act violations, which are punishable by a $27,500 fine per offense.

College campuses are cocoons, but they are not 100 percent safe cocoons. America’s residents must understand why Clery Act compliance is important if they want to have the information they need to protect themselves.

The Freeh Report saves its most damning criticism for Clery Act violations for the senior administrative staff at Penn State. It notes that members of the campus police force were not properly trained nor had adequate time to track statistics.

Campus police officers should not get a pass. They are trained officers who have jurisdiction on campus and within the State College municipality.

As early as May 1998, senior officials were put on notice that Sandusky was taking late-night showers with boys in university facilities. University police investigated a complaint filed by Victim No. 6’s mother about Sandusky showering with her 11-year-old son. A witness saw, the boy confirmed and Sandusky admitted to the mother that he gave the boy a bear hug from behind while both were naked in the shower.

Gary C. Schultz, senior vice president of finance and business, made these contemporaneous notes: “Behavior — at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties. At min — Poor Judgment. Is this opening of pandora’s box? Other children?”

University police chief Thomas R. Harmon informed university officials: “We’re going to hold off on making any crime log entry. At this point in time I can justify that decision because of the lack of clear evidence of a crime.”

The crime log is supposed to include information about the public reporting of campus crimes. If someone reports a complaint, it should be noted on the log. It is not a discretionary matter for a university police chief.

Harmon shucked off the significance of the May 1998 event, yet the Freeh Report says he found a written report of his investigation when the grand jury inquired last fall. If the investigation — interviews with the boy, his mother and eavesdropping on the mother’s conversation with Sandusky — was of such little consequence that it didn’t warrant a note in the crime log, how come he still had a copy of the report 13 years later?

The point is if the mother’s report had been noted in the crime log, campus and community media would have learned about it and disseminated information to the public. Maybe that could have saved the other boys Sandusky abused.

But that potential publicity was precisely the point of keeping the report off the crime log. It was deliberate, criminal obstruction.

No fine or penalty imposed by the U.S. Department of Education and National Collegiate Athletic Association can approximate the damage done to so many lives, but both those agencies should give it a good go. The NCAA has made a start.

Higher education communities everywhere must be diligent in making sure accurate crime statistics are kept and reported according to Clery Act requirements.

If you can’t find an annual crime report on your college’s website, call the U.S. Department of Education and report it. The life you save may be your own, your son’s or your daughter’s.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com.

© 2012 by Nerissa Young

 

1
Text Only
Columns