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What the Freeh report on Sandusky says about the failure of police who investigate sex crimes

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There has been a lot of attention paid to the Freeh report and its blistering indictment of the culture at Penn State that the authors said led to “a striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims” (including by me in The Guardian yesterday). But after reading the report, I’m also stunned at the actions of the local and state investigators assigned to investigate the 1998 molestation accusations.

Those investigators cleared now-convicted child rapist and then-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky of any criminal acts, and even saw fit to give him legal advice on how to avoid being caught — two things that came out in the 2011 indictment against him. But the Freeh report, which made use of more extensive records that the indictment, outlines in nauseating detail how the investigators ignored licensed medical professionals and allowed a therapist under contract to make the definitive report stating that he was not remotely predatory — which buried the whole case.

On May 3, 1998, Sandusky invited an underage Second Mile member to go to Penn State with him and work out, during which Sandusky “pinned” the boy during a wrestling match, kissed him and expressed that he loved him, invited him into the showers, demanded that the boy shower closer to him, hugged him and picked him up in a spooning position to “get the soap out” of the boy’s ears and hair. The boy told his mother, the mother reported it to a child psychologist, Alicia Chambers, that they were already seeing and then, on Chambers’ advice, reported it to the police.

The police assigned Detective Ron Schreffler, and both he and Chambers met with the boy the following day. Chambers reported the incident to the state child abuse hotline because “the incidents [met] all of our definitions, based on experience and education, of a likely pedophile’s pattern of building trust and gradual introduction of physical touch, within a context of a ‘loving,’ ‘special’ relationship.” Schreffler met with caseworkers at the County Youth Services who, since they had contracts to send children to Second Mile (from where Sandusky reportedly recruited his victims), turned it over to the state Department of Public Welfare and caseworker Jerry Lauro.

Nonetheless, CYS worker John Miller and Schreffler met with the victim’s friend together the following day, who described being similarly groomed by Sandusky. Schreffler also listened to voice mail messages Sandusky left for the child who reported, and took possession of a formal report from the child psychologist, Chambers. The state caseworker, Lauro, called the family up three days after the initial report and, despite having copies of the boy’s initial statement, said he hadn’t seen the case file and had no idea what Chambers had written. Despite orders from the local prosecutor to hold off on a second psychological evaluation of the boy, Lauro — who had at that point had reportedly decided that the case was about “boundary issues” and “gray areas” — ordered a contract counselor to evaluate the boy the following day (May 8).

Though that counselor, John Seasock, told Schreffler on May 9 that he wasn’t aware of some of the details of the case, his report after the interview says that he ruled out any chance that Sandusky was grooming the victim and said he’d never heard of a 52-year-old “becoming a pedophile.” He suggested instead that someone speak to Sandusky to “help him stay out of such gray area situations in the future.” Seasock later took a position at Penn State.

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On May 13, Sandusky came over to the victim’s house and, with Schreffler listening, apologized to the victim’s mother and accepted her suggestion that he leave her son alone. Sandusky returned to the house on May 19 and admitted, while Schreffler listened, that the boy “maybe” came into contact with Sandusky’s genitals, that he had told the boy he loved him but that he didn’t have “sexual feelings” while hugging the boy while they were both naked. However, pressed by the mother to leave her son alone, Sandusky said, unprompted, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.” Schreffler did not confront Sandusky, but let him leave.

By June 1, hampered by Seasock’s report exonerating Sandusky of any grooming behavior, the prosecutor’s office decided not to pursue the case. It was only after that decision was made that Schreffler and the state investigator, Lauro, interviewed Sandusky in his office at Penn State. Lauro and Schreffler suggested that Sandusky not shower with children any more, and Sandusky told them he “wouldn’t.” Both investigators closed their cases, leaving Sandusky to shower with and, according to the report, molest (at least) 4 more children — including at least three of them in the showers. By all accounts, the local CYS office continued to refer at-risk youth to Sandusky’s charity, where the evidence shows he continued to groom and molest some of them.

So while the behavior of the Penn State officials in this case — Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno — was nauseating and amoral, if this is how the police investigated molestation allegations against Sandusky, it’s no wonder he went at least 13 years without being caught. But without an open public investigation into the police and prosecutor’s actions, there’s no way to know if the state and local officials who so easily dismissed the first signs of Sandusky’s criminal behavior will have any idea how to keep the next pedophile from hurting more children.

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