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Ethically Speaking – Just for the Cops?

When I was asked to write an article on ethics my first thought was: where do you start?  Ethics in police work is a big topic.  My second thought was let’s look outside our blue box and see what is going on elsewhere.  Everyone in the country is pounded with ethics charges and complaints on officers.  When the shoe is put on the other foot ethics is never mentioned.  So, why are the folks in blue always getting the ethics bat over the head?  Why are we always picked out as being unethical?  I don’t have an answer but I have one heck of an example.

Let’s look at an episode that has blown ethics completely out of the water for the whole country and probably the world: Jerry Sandusky's molesting of young boys and the in-action of Pennsylvania State University staff to notify the police of his criminal conduct.  So far, only one person has truly been held accountable and that is Jerry Sandusky. 

This all began in 1998 when a boy reported to his mother that Sandusky asked to shower with him when he was 11.  Sandusky lathered soap on his back and bear-hugged him. The boy told his mother, who reported the incident to university police, leading to a lengthy investigation.  It almost came to an arrest of Sandusky.  It should have stopped right then but tragically it didn’t.

The investigator was Ronald Scheffler.  He interviewed Sandusky where Sandusky admitted that he had shower with the young man who has come to be known as victim 1 and several other youth.  Scheffler went to the district attorney and presented what he thought was enough evidence to arrest Sandusky.  District Attorney Ray Gricar declined to prosecute. 

Unfortunately, with that information in hand Scheffler did not follow up on the other victims.  Ten years and many victims later this investigation was not brought to attention.  During the years the Ray Gricar had disappeared.  Literally his car was found abandoned and he has never re-appeared.  Although many fear foul play, they do not believe that his being missing is related to this case.

A victim known as #6’s testimony to a Grand Jury was heard in 2009.  However, the statement was taken apart by Joe Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney.  The victim could not recall what happened in the shower.   The victim later told Scheffler that Sandusky never touched him sexually.  "I could sort of feel like he kissed me once or twice on the head, like you would kiss your child, you know what I mean," the boy said in the transcript. "Like you would kiss a child," Amendola repeated.
Finally as we know the case was put together Sandusky was tried and rightfully convicted.  He is in prison forever – we hope.

Now let’s look at the ethical part of this case.  The first known case was investigated and the officer went for charges.  A few issues here but at least there was an investigation to form a pattern.

In 2000 a janitor saw Sandusky in the showers with a youth pinned against the shower wall.  He told his supervisor who told his supervisor and co-workers.  Not one of them had the fortitude to report it to a higher authority or the police.

In 2001 a graduate assistant saw Sandusky involved in blatant sexual activity with a youth in the shower room of Penn State.  He told Coach Paterno what he saw.  Paterno told the athletic director Tim Curley who passed the information on to Vice President of Penn State Schultz. 

Over a week later the assistant met with Curley and Schultz and told them what he had seen.  The incident was never reported to law enforcement or child protective services.  Curley later testified to the Grand Jury that he was told that Sandusky was merely “horsing around” and had “inappropriate contact” with young boys.   Curley denied that he was told of an assault but he banned Sandusky from bringing youth onto Penn State campus.

Now in a report from CNN on July 2, it is revealed that more than the athletic department and vice president knew of the allegations.  There are damning emails out there here are some excerpts:

"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this,” Gary Schultz, who was a university vice president at the time.

“Spanier allegedly acknowledges Penn State could be "vulnerable" for not reporting the incident “

"The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier purportedly writes.

“In an alleged e-mail dated February 26, 2001, Schultz writes to Curley that he assumes Curley's "got the ball" "contacting the Department of Welfare," according to a source with knowledge of the case.”

“The next evening, February 27, Curley allegedly writes to Spanier; Schultz, who's out of the office for two weeks, is copied.  Curley indicates he no longer wants to contact child welfare authorities just yet. He refers to a conversation the day before with Paterno. It's not known what Paterno may have said to Curley.  Curley allegedly writes: "After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps."

“The athletic director apparently preferred to keep the situation an internal affair and talk things over with Sandusky instead of notifying the state's child welfare agency.  "I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved," Curley allegedly continues.  “But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed," he adds.

“The next afternoon, Schultz allegedly responds to the Penn State president and its athletic director. Schultz signs off on handling the matter without telling anyone on the outside, at least for the time being.”

“Curley writes he'd be "more comfortable" meeting with Sandusky himself and telling him they know about the 2001 incident and, according to a source with knowledge of the case, he refers to another shower incident with a boy in 1998 that was investigated by police but never resulted in charges against Sandusky”  (CNN July 2nd, 2012)

This goes on forever.  Ethically speaking Penn State went to hell in a handbag.  Understanding that when the first report to the college was made, there was no mandatory report to police; law educators should have had the ethics to have simply called 911 or called campus police; however, they covered up for Sandusky for years knowing he was abusing young boys.

What message was/is Penn State sending?  What you see here today is no different than what we know as the “Blue Line”, “Blue Veil”, or “Code of Silence.”  Their ethics went out the wall for over ten years.  They were covering for a former friend and retired employee.  This does sound familiar right?  Are we hitting the nail on the head?

Fortunately for the victims there is some type of justice.  The grand jury decided that Schultz and Curley lied in court.  Now they are charged with perjury.  This investigation continues and I would not be surprised if there are more arrests.

Ethics is not for just police anymore.  This conduct should not be ignored or condoned.  This is the time for the rest of the world to catch up.  There is a little known saying in the Legal Liability Risk Management world “There’s a lawsuit in there somewhere.”  Lawsuits are what people believe is the end of the story in cases like these.  That is not true.  Jerry Sandusky’s victims have been traumatized and will need help for the rest of their lives. 

Penn State will pay out millions of dollars to the victims, money that would have never left the campus had they simply done the right thing.  All they had to do was pick up the phone and drop the atomic quarter.  Sure, the college would have a cloud over it for a while.

The NCAA made public it’s punishment of Penn State. President Mark Emmert in a news conference said that Penn States wins from 1998 to 2011 would be reversed.  The school would be allowed only 15 of 25 scholarships for incoming players if any would come there to begin with.  Finally, the school would be fined sixty million dollars and a four year bowl ban.

President Emmert was strong in his remarks to Penn State “"In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable," he said. “No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims. However, we can make clear that the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics." The school had put ‘hero worship and winning at all costs’ ahead of integrity, honesty and responsibility.

I have to commend Governor Tom Corbett, the former Pennsylvania Attorney General who began the investigation into Sandusky, the investigators with the Attorney General’s office, and the Pennsylvania State Police for their diligent efforts to put this case to rest.  I doubt they knew it would turn into an article on ethics but I hope this serves as a lesson to all sectors of employment that Ethics should be taught, invoked, and enforced.