PA Attorney General Candidate Kathleen Kane Discusses Review of Sandusky Case
On November 6, 2012, voters across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will cast their votes for the presidential election. A significant race for the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General is taking place between Democrat Kathleen Kane and Republican David Freed. Both candidates have addressed how they would conduct the investigation into the handling of the Jerry Sandusky case. The result of this investigation could be of significant interest to the Penn State community. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kane to discuss her objectives in office and a proposed investigation into the handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.
Kathleen Kane, the former assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County, has the chance to be both the first woman elected to the office of Attorney General in Pennsylvania, as well as the first Democrat to hold the office since it became an elected position in 1980.
The David Freed campaign did not respond to an email from Onward State seeking an interview.
Onward State: A review of the investigation into the Jerry Sandusky case over the past decade and the efforts of Attorney General, then Tom Corbett, is one of the key issues of this Attorney General race and is certainly on the minds of the Penn State community, so we’ll start there.
You and your opponent, attorney David Freed, have both made promises to conduct a review of the Sandusky Scandal. You have promised to look into the investigation for any wrongdoing or politically motivated actions that may have taken place. How do you plan to approach this investigation, and how do you feel this approach will differ from your opponent?
Kathleen Kane: I plan on approaching it the same way I approach any investigation, any child investigation I’ve ever been in on. You know, I specialized in child sex abuse prosecution. We always start from the very first reporting, so we work with the investigators and take the case from the first reporting right up until the trial, or the appeal and thereafter, so I have a lot of experience in that area. I’ll approach this case exactly as I’ve approached any other case: I’ll find the facts, I’ll find the truth, based upon the facts, without regard for politics, or without regard for who I’m looking into. And that’s all we want; we want the truth about what happened, so every stone needs to be unturned, not the ones that are convenient for one political group or another political group, every stone needs to be unturned so we see the entire picture. My approach is different from my opponent’s, though, and I think in a couple of ways:
First, from the time that this case became public in November 2011, I, based upon my experience as a child abuse prosecutor, have said that it is very surprising they used a grand jury investigation. It was very surprising and shocking how long it took, it was surprising that they didn’t put the number of investigators on it that was needed, and that the investigators were not specialized in child sexual assault.
Whereas from the beginning, my opponent said “no comment” until August of 2012, and said that there was no review necessary, that the case was done properly, that Tom Corbett did a good job. Then, in August of 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer came out with a poll that said that 61 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that the case was mishandled. A couple of days later he appeared before an editorial board, and said, “We’ll look into it.” So there’s a difference between investigating, there’s a difference between looking into, and there’s a difference in, quite frankly, whether you believe that that’s actually going to happen. I’ve said it from the beginning; I haven’t changed my position, where he changed his based upon what appears to be a poll.
OS: One of the great tragedies of the Sandusky Scandal is that the abuse carried out over many years, was, in some cases reported to parents, school personnel, community members, psychologists, and investigators, without adequate follow up. These reports went up the chain of command without amounting to anything. How would you suggest a way for strengthening these lines of communication so that reports don’t get overlooked?
KK: There are a couple different ways of doing that, and I have set forth a child protective initiative that calls for a couple of different things:
Number one; it calls for easier reporting, so instead of victims reporting a suspected case of child abuse to ChildLine (The Pennsylvania ChildLine and Abuse Registry). It should be reported to both the police and ChildLine.
I have two boys, I teach them to call 911 in the event of an emergency. We need to make it easier on the public to report these types of crimes. 911 and ChildLine—that way, nothing falls through the cracks. We also need to open up the lines of communications, so there’s a database that the department of public welfare operates in Pennsylvania. But prosecutors and investigators don’t have access to that database, so if something happens in one county, we can only see that that has occurred in that county.
In some cases, abusers travel across county lines. There’s also such a pattern of child sex abuse that we need to see that pattern from county to county, and we need to see those techniques on the up-rise, and we need to see the increase in, whether it’s the grooming techniques, up to abuse techniques of children. So we need to open up the lines of communication between them. We also need better education, we need education with regard to, not only the signs of child sexual assault, but also to the devastating effects.
Because once you hear the devastating effects of child sexual abuse, there’s no question in your mind that you will report these things. We have to have that, we have to have mandatory training for state-funded colleges and universities for all of their employees so that way we take out any bureaucracy, we make sure that everyone has an opportunity to do the right thing, and everyone is well educated to what to look for and where to go for help.
OS: Can you comment on the denial and lack of public awareness of child sexual abuse?
KK: Child sexual abuse is extremely prevalent—much more prevalent than anyone in the general public wants to believe, and it’s a huge problem. It always has and always will be, so we need to develop better techniques of dealing with it, and I also believe we have to eliminate the statute of limitations when it comes to child sexual abuse.
You literally have killed a child inside, when you commit sexual abuse upon them, so there’s no statute for murder in Pennsylvania, there should be no statute for child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. And it is an arbitrary number to say, by age 50, I mean I think the legislators really tried to do their best and it was a great start, but it’s an arbitrary number to say “ by age 50 you should be able to come forward and report the most horrific crime to happen to you as a child.” So we need to eliminate it.
OS: Moving on from the Sandusky situation… What other issues out there in this campaign are of importance to Penn State students and the Penn State Community?
KK: The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth, so we have prevalent gangs, and prevalent drug problems whether it’s street drugs or prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in Pennsylvania. We need to make sure we have a cohesive approach to that, that we work together with communities that we have targeted enforcement because in my area where I live. I live in a small borough; I think we have one full-time police officer and other than that it’s covered by the State Police.
We need to be able to send the resources to the counties and the boroughs that need help in combating the gangs and drugs. We need a smarter law enforcement approach, too, besides enforcement, the tool of enforcement we also need to make sure we help prevent crimes and there are a number of different ways that we can do that.
We need to be more technologically savvy when it comes to prosecuting crimes we need to have better education, we need to have mentoring programs, school programs so that children have the structure they need so that they don’t join a gang and go out and commit crimes we need to have more education for seniors. As a prosecutor I went to senior centers, homes, and taught them the latest and greatest abuse scams out there, so we teach them how not to be a victim. I’ve been to schools and worked with schools, and if there was a gun in the school, how to get out, and how to get the teachers and the students out safely, and also, I talked to the students on sexual abuse and drugs, and the same with the teachers.
So education is a huge component of that. Mentoring programs, and we also have to have, move it more technologically advanced. Right now we, are really far behind when it comes to programs that can stop drug abuse and things like that.
I also think consumer protection is a huge issue. The Attorney General is responsible for consumer protection, so to me that’s a theft too. If I steal your wallet, you can go to jail for robbery for five to ten years, yet someone who can steal your home and put your family out on the street in the name of special interest, and it goes un-investigated. There’s student loan fraud, there’s veterans fraud. It needs to be investigated and prosecuted. That’s an area that I believe the Attorney General has been really dormant in Pennsylvania for a number of years now. We need to make sure that we protect charitable trusts, we need to make sure we watch over mergers between profits and not-for-profits, and make sure that it’s to the communities’ benefit. So there’s a lot that the attorney general does I think that, most of it is largely overlooked.
OS: Over the past year, despite an overall low crime rate, there has been a rise in sexual assaults on the Penn State campus. Naturally, this is a concern of young women at this university. With you as attorney general, is there a way to address this problem in Pennsylvania colleges?
KK: I think empowering women to protect themselves is always a good policy, and it works. So, just like I said, we need to go out and teach women how to protect themselves, do as much as they possibly can to avoid being in a situation where they become a victim, but just as much, there’s a big problem in reporting crimes like this. Nine out of ten sexual assaults don’t get reported, so women need to have the trust in their government and in their law enforcement agencies that when they do report the crime, we’re going to take care of them and we’re going to find justice. The way that we do that, is with strong prosecutions, so they work in conjunction with each other.
OS: You have an extensive background prosecuting cases where abuse of one kind or another has taken place; and again, in light of recent events, do you see the need for different laws for institutions both to protect victims, but also to encourage openness and reporting? Do you believe there is a need for new legislation, and if so, what reforms in legislation would you propose?
KK: Yes, I would. My initiatives go in conjunction with your question, and I believe it is the duty of the Attorney General to be a leader and work with legislators to make sure that we pass the reforms necessary to protect people.
All of the pieces need to be looked at and fixed, and that’s when the community can go on as a whole, and quite frankly you can become the leader and the model so that this doesn’t happen again. There’s a great opportunity to fix it, I think.
OS: Could you speak specifically, to how you plan to look back at the work that was done by the previous two Attorney General’s offices with the handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation.
KK: I will look at every report, every email, every internal document, every case note, every police report, and all of the evidence. If there was evidence that was missed or overlooked, we’ll go back out and talk to people and see exactly what happened.
I’ve worked on cold cases before, and so I know how to go back and make sure no stone goes unturned. This has to be objective, which is why it’s got to be by someone who won’t be swayed by politics. It’s got to be by someone who isn’t there for partisan reasons, and that’s when you can trust that all of the evidence will be uncovered. So it’s a little bit of both, it’s looking at what they already did, it’s looking at maybe what wasn’t done, and you know that’s the way you find the truth, that’s the only way.
OS: Later in our conversation, we discussed the possible scenario of having a Republican governor in Tom Corbett, and a Democrat serving as Attorney General, and some of the opportunities presented by this situation.
KK: Well, we need that. Our system only works on a system of checks and balances, and it’s got to be done that way. So the attorney general’s office has been held by, ever since it became an elected position, by a member of the Republican Party and not that there’s anything overtly wrong with that, but it’s time to open it up, and it’s time to have it be more transparent.
You also need to make sure that it actually is what it’s supposed to be—an independent agency—not run in conjunction with the governor’s office. And, quite frankly, with Dave Freed, it will be run in conjunction with the governors office. He’s Corbett’s hand-picked candidate. It’s not going to be any different. It’s going to be politics as usual. I think that the people of Pennsylvania deserve to have that check, that independence—it’s the only way it works. It’s time.