Commentary

Spanier indictment shows cover-up

Updated: November 2, 2012, 6:57 PM ET
By Lester Munson | ESPN.com

In early May 1998, when former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz first learned that the mother of an 11-year-old boy had complained to police about assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, alleging that he wrestled and showered with her son, Schultz went into action.

After the mother's complaint, Schultz spent the next evening with university police chief Tom Harmon, extracting every detail available. Schultz, who was Harmon's boss, questioned the police chief again on the next evening, demanding the details of the investigation.

As he debriefed the police chief, Schultz made meticulous notes. He wrote "CONFIDENTIAL" on the top of the first page and dated and numbered each succeeding page. He noted, for example, that the child was able to draw an accurate diagram of the shower to show how he tried to stay away from Sandusky.

Did Schultz have any doubt about the importance of the investigation of what happened in the shower? In his notes, Schultz observed that Sandusky's behavior with the boy was "at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties." He also noted that during a Sandusky bear hug, there "had to be genital contact because of the size difference."

In a significant signal of what would happen over the next 13 years, in the final entry in Schultz's notes regarding the first report of Sandusky's pedophilia, Schultz asked, "Is this opening Pandora's box? Other children?"

The notes were first made public Thursday, when a grand jury in Harrisburg, Penn., that is investigating the Penn State and Sandusky scandal issued a report that offered a detailed account of a vigorous and relentless attempt by Penn State officials to cover up Sandusky's predations and to protect the reputation of their football program. Their scheme succeeded in concealing any mention of Sandusky's activities until a media report in March 2011, and unraveled only when Schultz and Curley were arrested in November 2011 and Spanier was fired.

As he recorded the details in his notes, Schultz e-mailed reports up the line to then-university President Graham Spanier and down the line to athletic director Tim Curley. Both replied instantly, and, as the grand jury said in its report, "This incident was clearly a matter of considerable interest among high-ranking Penn State administrators."

On at least three occasions, an impatient and demanding Curley e-mailed back to Schultz, asking for updates on the police investigation. After a month, the investigation came to a sudden end when then District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to file charges against Sandusky. Without ever offering any explanation of his decision not to prosecute Sandusky, Gricar vanished without a trace in April 2005.

Clearly relieved that the investigation had been concluded, Schultz told Spanier and Curley in a final e-mail that he hoped "the matter is now behind us."

According to the grand jury, Schultz then locked his detailed notes on the investigation in a drawer in a bookcase in his office. He told his assistant at the time, Joan Coble, that she should never look in the Sandusky file. Coble told the grand jury that it was a highly unusual request from Schultz and that it was made in a "tone of voice" she had never heard before.

Locking the Sandusky notes in a drawer separate from Schulz's university file system was the first step in a cover-up that has now led to perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Spanier and additional charges against Schultz and Curley, who had already been charged with perjury and failure to report abuse of a child, with a trial now scheduled for January.

The cover-up continued in February 2001, when Schultz, Spanier and Curley faced the now-notorious allegations from former assistant coach Mike McQueary that he saw Sandusky in the shower with another young boy. Notes and e-mails among the three high-ranking university officials again piled up as they tried to manage another investigation that, according to the grand jury, "had the potential to significantly damage and (to) embarrass Penn State."

Joe Paterno & Graham Spanier
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarFormer Penn State president Graham Spanier and coach Joe Paterno.

To avoid any damage to the university and to the football program, they decided that they would do nothing in response to the McQueary allegations. Schultz, who had again made meticulous notes, added them to the 1998 notes he had stashed in his locked file drawer.

The critical point in the decision not to report the incident was another revelation in the grand jury's report on Thursday, and involved the late Joe Paterno, Penn State's longtime football coach. The three top officials were leaning toward making the report that Pennsylvania law requires, but then athletic director Curley discussed the situation with Paterno.

In an e-mail to Spanier and Schultz, Curley said he had given the decision to report Sandusky "more thought" and in "talking it over with Joe (Paterno), I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps."

Instead of reporting Sandusky, Curley now suggested that he should talk with Sandusky, suggest to him that "there is a problem" and that Sandusky "needs professional help." Both Spanier and Schultz agreed to Curley's suggestion, setting up 10 more years of Sandusky's abuse of children.

When state police authorities began their investigation of Sandusky in 2010, they quickly focused on Penn State's responses to the earlier allegations. In December 2010, they issued a subpoena to Penn State that demanded all e-mails, notes and records on Sandusky and "inappropriate contact with underage males on and off university property."

Like any large organization, Penn State maintains a staff that is trained to respond to litigation requests and is able to dig out e-mails and records and to ensure that all materials are produced. Spanier and Schultz did not use the trained staff and, according to the grand jury, produced only a "handful of records." Schultz's notes on the 1998 and 2001 incidents remained locked in the drawer in his bookcase. None of the e-mails among the three top officials were turned over to the state investigators.

Even when members of the university's board of trustees demanded information after a report of the Sandusky investigation was published in the Harrisburg Patriot-News in March 2011, the three officials continued their attempts to hide their decisions. In his responses to the trustees, Spanier said the state investigation did not involve the university.

Even when Schultz and Curley were arrested in November 2011, Spanier supported them in public statements, claiming their innocence and ignoring board requests to show some level of concern for Sandusky's victims.

Only when the trustees fired Spanier on Nov. 9, 2011, did the stone wall erected by the top officials begin to crumble. In response to orders from the trustees, university staff produced Schultz's notes, hundreds of e-mails among the three top officials, and 22 boxes of records on Sandusky.

The grand jury, after reviewing the materials and listening to prosecutors interrogate the officials, concluded that all of the activities Schultz began in 1998, when he started taking notes, was part of a scheme to "conceal or obscure (Sandusky's) activities from the authorities and the public."

As the result of an elaborate and relentless effort to conceal what Sandusky was doing and to protect the Penn State football program, Spanier, Schultz and Curley now face serious felony charges and, if convicted, the probability of incarceration.

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