Leadership & Governance

Remorseful, Spanier’s Lieutenants Say They Failed Children

March 23, 2017

Dan Gleiter, PennLive.com via AP
Gary Schultz faced an aggressive cross-examination on Wednesday in the trial of Graham Spanier, former president of Penn State U. Mr. Schultz, former senior vice president for finance and business, expressed remorse in his testimony for agreeing to go along with a plan not to report a 2001 incident in which the assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was seen showering with a young boy. “It was a mistake,” Mr. Schultz said.

The trial of Graham B. Spanier, former president of Pennsylvania State University, steered toward its emotional core here on Wednesday, as prosecutors hammered home a sobering fact: In the years after Mr. Spanier and his lieutenants decided against telling the authorities about Jerry Sandusky showering with a young boy, the former Nittany Lions assistant football coach went on to molest more children.

That reality appeared to weigh heavily on Timothy M. Curley, Penn State’s former athletics director, and Gary C. Schultz, a former senior vice president for finance and business, both of whom prosecutors called to the witness stand on Wednesday. The testimonies of the two men, who recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of children, mark the first time that Penn State administrators have spoken in open court about committing crimes in connection with an abuse scandal that has consumed Penn State University for years.

"I pleaded guilty because I should have done more," Mr. Curley said. "I didn’t ask enough questions."

Prosecutors appeared to use the guilty pleas of Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz as a tool to illustrate the moral and professional failings of an administration that either missed or ignored signs of a serial predator operating on university grounds.

Patrick Schulte, a deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, underscored this theme in stark detail as he questioned Mr. Curley. Mr. Sandusky’s conviction, in 2012, on 45 counts related to child molestation, included several victims who were assaulted after 2001, when the top men at Penn State heard about the coach showering with a boy and agreed not to tell the authorities. Instead, they reported the incident to the Second Mile, a charity for underprivileged youth that Mr. Sandusky used to groom his victims, and told the coach — the football team's former defensive coordinator, who had retired by that time — not to bring children into Penn State locker rooms again.

"You know that other kids got hurt after that, correct?" Mr. Schulte said.

"I understand," Mr. Curley answered in a muffled voice.

When Mr. Schultz was later asked about going along with the plan not to report the 2001 incident, the former senior vice president expressed remorse.

"It was a mistake," he said, and then went silent for several seconds before continuing, in a halting manner. "We should have reported it like the original plan."

The original plan, as recorded in Mr. Schultz’s handwritten notes at the time, included reporting the incident to Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare. That did not happen.

‘Everything Was Handled’

In exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz were spared two more-serious felony charges. Mr. Spanier, whose friends say he rejected a similar plea deal, is charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of children and one count of criminal conspiracy, all third-degree felonies that each carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

“I thought Jerry had a boundary issue and some judgment issues that needed to be addressed.”

Mr. Spanier has repeatedly denied that he ever heard of anything sexual occurring between Mr. Sandusky and young boys, and Mr. Curley testified similarly.

The 2001 incident, while concerning, did not suggest criminal activity, Mr. Curley said. The same was true of an incident in 1998, he said, when Mr. Sandusky was investigated for showering with a young boy but was never criminally charged.

"I thought Jerry had a boundary issue and some judgment issues that needed to be addressed," Mr. Curley said.

Mr. Schultz, who faced a more-aggressive cross examination than his former colleague, was more inclined than Mr. Curley to cast the 1998 and 2001 incidents as serious and disturbing. Even if there was no knowledge of sexual contact between Mr. Sandusky and the boys in the shower, Mr. Schultz said, there was cause for genuine concern that warranted a report to child-welfare authorities.

Mr. Schultz maintained on Wednesday that he believed, until years later, that a report had been made to the Department of Public Welfare regarding the 2001 incident. He said he thought, though he could not say for sure, that it was Mr. Spanier who had told him "everything was handled." Mr. Schultz said he had interpreted that as an indication that the authorities had been notified.

Mr. Spanier’s lawyers worked to poke holes in Mr. Schultz’s testimony, zeroing in on differences between his statements on Wednesday regarding the 2001 incident and his previous presentments to a grand jury. Mr. Schultz recounted what he says he heard from Michael J. McQueary, a former Penn State football graduate assistant, whose eyewitness account is central to the prosecution’s argument that Mr. Spanier endangered children. Mr. Schultz said it was his understanding that Mr. Sandusky had been spotted in a shower "standing behind the boy with his arms around him." It was "assumed," Mr. Schultz said, that both Mr. Sandusky and the boy were naked.

In prior testimony before the grand jury, Mr. Schultz acknowledged on Wednesday, he had been less specific about what he had heard from Mr. McQueary.

More than any other witness to date, Mr. Schultz lent support to the prosecution’s argument that Mr. Sandusky’s behavior was part of a clearly recognizable pattern of inappropriate conduct.

When Mr. Schultz learned of the 2001 incident, he said he recalled the 1998 incident in "a nanosecond." He had hoped that Mr. Sandusky would have "learned his lesson" from the previous investigation, but the second incident suggested otherwise.

An Infamous Email

The prosecution’s case hinges on what Mr. Spanier was told about Mr. Sandusky’s behavior and whether he conspired with Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz to prevent a report of the 2001 incident from being made.

Asserting that case, prosecutors presented in court a now-infamous email, in which Mr. Spanier agreed with a plan not to inform the authorities about Mr. Sandusky showering with a boy. Instead, they would tell Mr. Sandusky to seek professional help.

"The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and then we become vulnerable for having not reported it," Mr. Spanier wrote to Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz on February 27, 2001. "But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is a humane and a reasonable way to proceed."

On cross examination, Mr. Schultz dismissed the premise that he had conspired with Mr. Curley and Mr. Spanier to prevent a report of abuse from being made, effectively rejecting that Mr. Spanier had been part of a criminal conspiracy. But Laura Ditka, the deputy attorney general leading the prosecution, suggested in her follow-up questions that abandoning the plan to report Mr. Sandusky to child-welfare officials constituted a conspiracy among the three men.

"The plan changed," she said, "by agreement of the three of you."

Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary football coach, looms large in the background of the trial, five years after his death. In testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Curley confirmed that elliptically worded emails mentioning "coach" were referring to Mr. Paterno, who was not comfortable with a plan that included reporting Mr. Sandusky to the authorities.

Between the testimonies of Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, the last witness to be called by the prosecution, jurors heard from a man identified only as John Doe. The witness, now 28, had come to know Mr. Sandusky through the Second Mile charity, when he was nine or 10.

As the man testified, the prosecution projected an old photograph on a screen at the center of the courtroom. It showed a young John Doe and a group of boys standing with a grinning Jerry Sandusky, whose arm was draped around one of the children.

"Sir," Mr. Schulte asked, "are you a sexual-assault survivor?"

In a cracking voice, the witness responded, "I am."

John Doe testified that he was sexually assaulted by Mr. Sandusky in the summer of 2002, in Penn State’s Lasch Football Building. The witness said that he remembered the timing definitively because it came the summer after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It also came after Mr. Spanier and his colleagues decided against reporting Mr. Sandusky to the authorities.

Jack Stripling covers college leadership, particularly presidents and governing boards. Follow him on Twitter @jackstripling, or email him at jack.stripling@chronicle.com.