Judge orders Penn State ex-officials to stand trial
A judge has sent all charges to trial against former Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Judge William C. Wenner called this "a tragic day for Penn State University." Curley, Schultz, Spanier remain in courtroom for paperwork.
HARRISBURG — Graham Spanier tried desperately to control the narrative the night the Penn State Board of Trustees removed him as president, just as he had days earlier when state prosecutors charged two of his top administrators in a child-sex abuse coverup, the university's public information director testified Tuesday.
As students and fans rioted in State College over the firing the same night of long-time head football coach Joe Paterno, Spanier telephoned public information director Lisa Powers four times and pressured her to post his personally written statement without the board's consent, Powers said. At one point, as Powers waited for approval from board vice chairman John Surma, Spanier called and claimed Surma had signed off on his draft, she said.
"I'm sorry," Powers said she told Spanier. "I am told I no longer work for you."
Spanier wrote in his draft that he resigned Nov. 9, 201,1 for the "betterment of the university" and that he made the decision "on behalf the university" because he no longer saw himself fit to lead. The board of trustees, which had given Spanier an ultimatum to quit or be fired, excised that paragraph from the final version of the statement released publicly, she said.
Spanier had been carefully managing the university's messaging on the child-sex abuse front — in public statements and grand jury testimony — for more than a year before he and Paterno were dismissed and vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley were charged with covering up a sexual abuse allegation against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky in February 2001. Prosecutors charged Sandusky the same week.
The approach, Powers said, left the university's public information staff woefully unprepared when "all hell broke loose" in early November 2011. Hundreds of reporters, producers and photographers decended on the university campus. Satellite trucks filled the parking lot outside Beaver Stadium and in front of the administrative center, Old Main. Telephone calls and emails poured in and the public relations staff had few answers.
"Our office had no idea. We did not anticipate the presentment. We did not anticipate the fallout," Powers said, referring to the grand jury report leaked Nov. 4, 2011, that provided a narrative of the allegations against Sandusky, Curley and Schultz. "We were inundated with media from everywhere. I couldn't answer my phones. I couldn't answer my email."
Powers described the chaos and the behind-the-scenes fights over the administration's messaging on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Spanier, Curley and Schultz in Dauphin County Court.
Spanier, Curley and Schultz are charged with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstruction of justice and three counts of conspiracy. If their charges are forwarded to trial and they are convicted on all counts, they each face a maximum of 39 years in prison.
The charges for Spanier did not come until last November, when prosecutors accused him of lying to a grand jury about his knowledge of an earlier campus police investigation into Sandusky's behavior and of keeping emails and other evidence from law enforcement. The university handed over that material, prosecutors said, soon after Spanier left office.
In grand jury testimony read into the preliminary hearing record Tuesday, Spanier said he had no knowledge of the 1998 investigation and was told the 2001 incident amounted to Sandusky "horsing around" with a boy in a campus shower.
Spanier, contrary to email evidence presented by prosecutors, told the grand jury in April 2011 that he, Curley and Schultz never discussed reporting the incident to police or the Department of Public Welfare. Part of the response outlined in the emails, which Spanier received, involved informing Sandusky that they were aware of the earlier incident.
Spanier said he had no indication what he described to the grand jury as "horseplay" could have been sexual in nature. He said he never considered that possibiility because, "what was reported to me was not a report of an activity that was sexual in nature. I know better than to jump to conclusions about that."
However, in a Feb. 28, 2001, email approving a plan not to approach Sandusky rather than reporting him to the police, Spanier appeared to understand the sexual nature of the abuse allegation. "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," he wrote.
Spanier, whom Powers described as a demanding, detail-oriented "micromanager" who wanted things to happen "the way he wanted them to happen," kept details of the grand jury investigation from even his most trusted aides and acted aloof when reporters closed in.
In September 2010, eight months after the university received a subpoena for personnel records and correspondence related to Sandusky, Spanier replied to a reporter's emailed inquiry about the investigation with: “I haven’t heard this. Can you tell me more?”
In February 2011, after a reporter tracked down the campus police chief whose department investigated the 1998 allegation, Spanier agreed to "clue" Powers in with "just as much as she needs to know to field media inquiries, without exacerbating the situation," Powers said.
A senior vice president, Al Horvath, downplayed the significance of the investigation, Powers said, telling her it involved a former employee who had retired more than a decade ago. The 1998 allegation, he said, had been investigated and closed.
Another reporter emailed the university about Sandusky in March 2011.
"We don't know anything," Powers responded.
The statement, she testified, "was absolutely true at that point. I didn't know anything except that he was a former employee who had not been at the university for 10 years."
After the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported March 31, 2011, that top university officials had testified before the grand jury, Powers said she met with the university's general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin.
"I wasn't sure what a grand jury was," Powers joked. "I only knew it was something that happened with the Mafia."
Baldwin, she said, trumpeted the same company line. The grand jury had convened three times earlier, Balwin said, according to Powers, and had found no evidence of wrongdoing.
It was a "fishing expedition," Baldwin said, according to Powers.
In late October 2011, as the arrests neared, Spanier called a meeting in his office and slid a single sheet across the table to his top public relations handlers: a page full of platitudes and unconditional support for Curley and Schultz.
The statement did not mention Sandusky's victims or the scourge of child abuse, Powers' boss, Bill Mahon, pointed out.
"There was no indication of empathy or concern expressed," Powers testified. "He felt that was lacking."
Mahon slid the statement back to Spanier, who scribbled the lines that became the opening paragraph: "The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance."
"With regards to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee."