Sandusky, Penn State police chief who closed '98 sex abuse inquiry were once neighbors

Centre Daily TimesDecember 10, 2011 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The head of Penn State University's police department who oversaw a 1998 investigation of possible sexual abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky once lived three houses down from the defensive coordinator, property records show.

Chief Thomas Harmon took over leading the department just one month before a detective began looking into whether the chief's former neighbor sexually abused two 11-year-old boys in a campus shower. Harmon later ordered the case closed when the Centre County, Pa., district attorney decided not to file criminal charges.

Sandusky retired from Penn State a year later.

The personal connection between the chief and the architect of "Linebacker U" now has lawyers for Sandusky's alleged victims questioning what role those ties may have played in closing the 1998 investigation, which they argue was a missed opportunity to stop Sandusky from assaulting more children.

"It reflects how incestuous the cast of characters are," said Michael Boni, who represents the person identified as Victim 1 in the Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month. "It's circular. The fact that they were neighbors ought to be investigated. Did Harmon think 'I shouldn't pursue this matter' because he's a friend or neighbor? These things have to be looked at."

Sandusky faces more than 50 charges of child sex abuse involving 10 young boys over a 15-year span. Most of the assaults detailed in two grand jury reports allegedly occurred after the 1998 investigation was closed.

Sandusky has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He is due in Centre County court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing where he is expected to face his accusers.

Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, who were charged with covering up one instance of alleged abuse, return to court in Dauphin County, Pa., on Friday.

The lack of charges following the 1998 investigation has contributed to criticism that law enforcement and school officials didn't do enough to stop the alleged assaults.

"It seems clear to us that PSU as well as other institutions in the community had several opportunities to stop Sandusky's sexual abuse of children and failed to do so for decades," said attorney Justine Andronici, who is representing one of the alleged victims.

According to the grand jury report, Harmon ordered his detective, Ronald Schreffler, to close the Sandusky case after then-District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to file criminal charges.

In 1977, Harmon moved onto Norle Street, a small tight-knit community in Centre County where residents described neighborhood kids playing together, including Sandusky's and Harmon's children. They rode bikes together in the cul-de-sac. Sandusky also hosted kickball games in his backyard. Several neighbors said they were shocked by the allegations and described the Sanduskys as a loving family and great neighbors.

Colleagues said the two families attended the same church, St. Paul's United Methodist Church in State College.

Harmon had been director of Penn State police since 1990. In April 1998, he assumed more responsibilities when David Stormer, an assistant vice president who oversaw the department, retired and his position wasn't filled. Stormer couldn't be reached for comment.

Harmon, now retired, sold his home in August and moved to Pittsburgh. He declined to speak about the investigation, including his relationship with Sandusky, citing the state attorney general's ongoing investigation.

The Sanduskys moved from Norle Street in 1984 to the home they built on Grandview Road, less than two miles away.

The State College Police Department denied requests for copies of the 1998 investigation, including reports on two calls Sandusky had with a victim's mother that police were listening in on. Police cited the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know laws that exempt investigative records and information on juveniles.

On Thursday, the state Office of Open Records ruled that Penn State police do not have to release any records of the investigation.

Nils Hagen-Fredericksen, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said the 1998 investigation is only one part of the substantial amount of evidence and testimony that has been presented to the grand jury, including "hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents."

"More of that information will become unsealed as that court process moves forward," he said.

The grand jury found that details of the '98 investigation include allegations that match many of those made by other alleged victims. And, according to people with knowledge of the 1998 case, only a fraction of what was uncovered during the two-month investigation is included in the grand jury report.

The full 1998 report is roughly 130 pages chronicling "down-to-the minute" details of Sandusky's interactions with two alleged victims.

The two 11-year-old boys at the center of the 1998 investigation are identified in the grand jury report as Victim 6 and B.K. The latter, the report states, was "subjected to nearly identical treatment in the shower as Victim 6."

Sandusky met Victim 6 at a picnic at a College Township, Pa., park in the mid-1990s. It was organized by The Second Mile, the charity Sandusky formed in 1977 to help troubled youth, through which prosecutors say he met all of the alleged victims.

The 11-year-old boy told authorities Sandusky brought him to several Penn State football games where he tailgated with the Sandusky family.

The boy recalled Sandusky taking him to the showers at a Penn State locker room. The boy, who is now 24, said he tried to pick a spot farther away from Sandusky to shower, but Sandusky called him over saying he had already warmed up a shower for the boy.

Sandusky lathered the boy's back, saying the boy would not be able to reach it, according to testimony to the grand jury.

"I'm going to squeeze your guts out," Sandusky told the naked boy embracing him in a bear hug, according to the report.

University Police Detective Ronald Schreffler and State College Police Detective Ralph Ralston worked with the boy's mother to secretly tape a conversation between her and Sandusky.

According to the grand jury report, she asked Sandusky whether his "private parts" touched the boy when he bear hugged him. He replied: "I don't think so ... maybe." He admitted to her he was wrong and asked for forgiveness, and is quoted in the report saying, "I wish I were dead."

Jerry Lauro, an investigator with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, interviewed Sandusky on June 1, 1998, along with Schreffler. During the interview, Sandusky admitted to showering naked with Victim 6 and hugging the 11-year-old boy while in the shower. Sandusky admitted his behavior was wrong.

Lauro said the findings of the 1998 investigation did not meet the state's definition of child abuse. Lauro said he made his decision based on "available evidence at the time."

He said their investigation included nothing like the accounts of oral sex and alleged rape that have since been made by other alleged victims in testimony to the grand jury.

"All I had were boundaries issues," he said. "It didn't rise to the level of child abuse by the laws of Pennsylvania."

Attorney Howard Janet, who represents Victim 6, declined requests for an interview citing next week's hearings.

Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, did not return calls or emails seeking comment. He said last month that Sandusky's showering with a boy was not a crime "unless the commonwealth can show some intent on his part to make it a sexual incident."

Karen Arnold was the assistant district attorney who handled child abuse cases for the Centre County District Attorney's Office and was involved in the 1998 investigation. She declined to discuss the case, but when asked why charges were not filed, she said it was District Attorney Gricar's decision.

Gricar went missing in 2005. He was legally pronounced dead this summer.

Former colleagues have defended Gricar, saying he never shied away from high-profile cases and was not swayed by Penn State's influence.

In two media interviews, Sandusky has admitted showering with boys, but denied any sexual conduct or that he was sexually attracted to children. Referring to the 1998 investigation, Sandusky told The New York Times he remembered the mother asking him about showering with her son.

"Yes, I said nothing happened," Sandusky said. "I said to her can we get your son and maybe just talk...I said 'I feel bad about that perception that he had something that bothered him.' I'm sure I said 'I'm sorry.' "

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