Some oversight, please…

better courts | better outcomes
December 14, 2011

You all know who Jerry Sandusky is by now. But if your cave collapse has you out in the world for the first time, following are highlights of the man’s adventures in abuse:

1998: Reports surface that assistant coach of the Penn State football team, Jerry Sandusky, “showered” with an 11-year-old boy. The boy was interviewed. Another possible victim was interviewed. The police wrote a report. What looked like the stuff of a solid case went to then Centre County, Pa., district attorney, Ray Gricar, who chose not to prosecute. In turn, the commander of Penn State’s campus police force told his detective to shut the investigation down. Why? Because Sandusky had already admitted to “showering” with the boy, and had promised not to do it again. He’d been given a time out; he was contrite. The issue died. And for anyone who wants to know why Gricar didn’t prosecute given the testimony he had, you’re out of luck. Gricar vanished in 2005, and his body has never been found.

2000: a Penn State janitor reported he saw Sandusky in a shower room, performing oral sex on a boy who was pinned against the wall. He told other janitors and a supervisor, but made no official report.

2002: According to the grand jury indictment, “graduate assistant Mike McQueary walked into a locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping sounds. He looked into the shower and saw a boy of about 10, with his hands up against the wall. A naked Sandusky was having intercourse with him. The assistant left. The next day, he reported the incident to [Penn State head Football Coach Joe] Paterno. On Sunday, Paterno told Penn State athletic director Tim Curley that McQueary had seen Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.” Curley and Gary Schultz, Penn State’s senior vice president of finance and business, talked to McQueary about 10 days later. About two weeks later, Curley told McQueary that Sandusky’s keys to the locker room had been taken away. The grand jury said police and child welfare agencies were never notified, and the officials made no attempt to identify the boy.”

2005: Victim 9 claims Sandusky tried to penetrate him anally at least 6 times over the course of several years.

2007: Victim 1 in the grand jury report alleges that Sandusky began inviting him to stay overnight at his home. In a basement bedroom, Sandusky kissed and fondled him, performed oral sex on him more than 20 times and made the boy reciprocate once.

In all, there are 12 alleged victims, most of whom were accosted after that first case in 1998 was dropped, and many after Joe Paterno was notified of what McQueary had seen in the shower. Which begs the obvious question: Why on earth didn’t anyone put a stop to this? Maureen Dowd in a Times op-ed goes after Paterno; Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mile; Penn State university president, Graham Spanier; and the culture of denial at Penn State that will gladly sacrifice little boys to its football utopia. Other people—especially people who went to Penn State—have been more forgiving and bewildered  by Paterno’s failure to act in a meaningful way. In either case, there’s no disputing what Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School who is representing one of the reported victims, has to say about why so many boys were left unrprotected: “This is an institutional case…Two institutions that were tightly bound together, the Second Mile and Penn State, and the football program in particular, let Sandusky continue with his behavior.”

No one called the police in 2002. McQueary called his daddy. Paterno told his boss, but apparently sanitized what he knew—made it kid friendly. The pace with which Penn State responded was glacial—ten days! The worst that happened to Sandusky was losing his keys to the boys’ locker room.  So either we have to think everyone was in on it, colluding to help Sandusky enjoy his pedophilia without restraint or that no one could be bothered to deal with it because surely someone else would. And in this is the essence of institutional injustice—what happens when everyone passes the buck, can’t be bothered, and refuses to see (or just can’t see) the big picture. And why a Justice Index is so important. Wouldn’t it have helped Paterno do something responsible if he’d had something like a grand jury report telling him that Sandusky had been an active pedophile for years, and here are the testimonials—the data—to prove it? Sure, when it comes to accosting little boys, no one should have to be told it’s happened more than once to react. But a bigger picture still would have helped. Because no one really thinks Paterno’s evil or even mean-spirited. He’s just weak. He took the easy road. He’d been fronting as a great moral leader—not just of football players, but of young men transitioning from teenagers to adults—which front could not stand against the big picture. Not much can, not when the big picture is that big. The Justice Index isn’t about nailing the guy who’s abusing kids, but it is about flagging patterns of abuse in the courts that are no less dire—people pleading without lawyers, languishing in jail, denied their day in court—patterns that can be remedied so long as they get noticed.