by Geoff Rushton
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier took the stand Thursday in the trial for Mike McQueary’s whistle-blower and defamation lawsuit against the university.
Spanier testified for the first time in open court about what he knew or didn’t know about allegations against Jerry Sandusky in 1998 and 2001, and about the statement he issued in support of two former administrators charged in an alleged concealment of Sandusky’s child sexual abuse.
McQueary, a former wide receivers coach. is suing Penn State on claims that former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz misrepresented how they would handle his report of seeing Sandusky in a locker room shower with a boy; that Spanier’s statement of support for Curley and Schultz caused harm to his reputation; and that the cumulative effect of Penn State’s actions, including placing him on leave and not renewing his contract was retaliatory and harmed his ability to find employment.
Much of Spanier’s testimony, however, has already been documented. He said he had no knowledge of a 1998 incident involving Sandusky that was investigated by police and the Department of Public Welfare. The Centre County District Attorney at the time, Ray Gricar, declined to prosecute the case.
Spanier was copied at the end of a chain of emails in 1998, in which Schultz said the investigation was completed and the matter closed. Spanier, who did not appear to be copied on any earlier emails, said he had no memory of the 1998 case ever being discussed with him. He said he had been traveling out of the country before and after the email, and at the time would not have had access to emails until he returned. He said he probably did not go back and read every email he received on his return.
“If by some chance I had seen it, when I would see something at a time of reviewing hundreds of emails with a statement that a matter was appropriately closed, I almost certainly would not have inserted myself into it and extend it further,” Spanier said.
McQueary’s attorney Elliot Stokoff then turned to the Feb, 9, 2001 incident when McQueary says he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in a shower at the Lasch Football Building.
On Feb. 12, Spanier briefly met with Schultz and Curley, whom he said told him an athletic department staff was uncomfortable after seeing “Jerry Sandusky in an athletic locker room facility after a workout and Mr. Sandusky was engaged in horseplay,” with a child.
Spanier said he asked Curley if anything more than horseplay had been reported and was told no. McQueary contends he saw Sandusky engaged in a sexual act with the boy and told Curley and Schultz as much in detail.
He said no mention was made of Schultz’s conversation a day earlier with the university’s outside counsel at the time, Wendell Courtney, who testified earlier this week that he was told of nothing sexual having occurred but advised Schultz the smart thing to do would be to report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare.
Spanier testified that the men agreed two forms of “intervention” should take place: Sandusky would be told not to bring children into the locker rooms and that the head of Sandusky’s The Second Mile charity for at risk youth should be notified.
Strokoff pressed Spanier on details of a Feb. 28 email exchange among the three men. Spanier said he couldn’t explain what Curley meant by “the first situation,” which is now understood to mean the 1998 incident, Curley and Schultz’s references to “the two groups,” and “the other organization” and references to assisting Sandusky in “getting help” for what might be a “problem.”
Spanier testified that he had left Curley to handle the situation and in the days between their first meeting and the follow-up Spanier was out of town for most of that time.
“We had no discussion one way or another about an investigation,” Spanier said. “What Tim described to me in that meeting didn’t occur to me to be something that warranted an investigation.”
Spanier, Curley and Schultz all still face charges of child endangerment and failure to report suspected child abuse for their alleged handling of the 2001 report. Each was charged with perjury and obstruction related to their grand jury testimony, but those charges have been dismissed.
What Spanier remembered of the 2001 report and his experience with Curley and Schultz over 16 years of working together informed that 2011 statement that McQueary argues defamed him.
At the same time Sandusky was arrested on child sexual abuse charges on Nov. 5, 2011, Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury and failure to report. That same day Spanier – who would not be charged until a year later — issued a statement that expressed his confidence in how they handled allegations about Sandusky and that “the record will show these charges are groundless.”
Spanier said the statement represented his opinion.
“From everything I knew about the facts and the character of these two individuals, I thought it was a great injustice they were being charged at all,” Spanier said.
“There was a never a single incident in all those years [of working with them]where information was withheld or shaded in any way. I knew what I believed to be the truth. It was an unbelievable injustice that these two guys who were like boy scouts would be charged with a crime.”
Spanier said he never discussed grand jury testimony with Curley or Schultz “out of respect for the process.” He testified that he did not know the unnamed graduate assistant in the grand jury presentment who witnessed Sandusky and a boy in the shower was McQueary. In fact, he said, Curley and Schultz in 2001 had only identified the person as an athletic department staff member. He said he had not known it occurred in the Lasch Building either.
Under cross-examination by Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad, Spanier said neither the statement, nor similar sentiments expressed in meetings with athletic department staff two days later, were meant to reference or harm McQueary. Conrad framed multiple questions around whether Spanier issued the statement with malice, harm, reckless disregard for the truth and other elements that would constitute McQueary’s defamation claim. To each he said no.
He added that no one present when the statement was drafted on Oct. 28 or when he shared it with senior leaders of the university the day of the charges told him they inferred that it referenced McQueary, and that McQueary’’s name was never mentioned. He said no one raised concerns or expressed knowledge of McQueary’s involvement, and Spanier said he did not know McQueary was the graduate assistant until a day or two later when it was made public in media reports.
In other testimony from Thursday:
– John McQueary, Mike McQueary’s father, testified about the night of Feb. 9, 2001, when his son saw Sandusky and the boy in the shower. He testified that Mike called him from the Lasch Football building clearly upset and told him he had just seen Sandusky in the shower with a boy, and that “they were doing inappropriate things.” The younger McQueary told him that Sandusky was behind the boy in the shower and that when McQueary had entered the locker room he “could hear rhythmic, or slapping sounds.” He said he looked a second time and they had separated.
John said Mike told him he believed Sandusky and the boy had left the building but that he didn’t know for sure. John told Mike to come to his parents’ house, where he recounted what he had seen. The elder McQueary had also called friend and colleague Dr. Jonathan Dranov to come to the house.
On Wednesday, Dranov testified that Mike McQueary was clearly shaken by what he had witnessed, but when asked what he had seen only described the sounds he had heard.
On cross-examination by Conrad, John McQueary testified that he did not suggest calling police or returning to the locker room to make sure Sandusky and the boy had left..
He also testified similarly to Dranov about a follow-up the two men had with Schultz following a business meeting a short time later.
“I said ‘Gary, this is huge. What’s next?,’” John McQueary testified. “He said ‘We’ve heard noise about this before and every time we’ve come up empty. We had nothing to sink our teeth into.’”
He said Schultz told him it was being looked into and that he saw him again some time later and Schultz told him it was being investigated.
– A deposition from Earnest Wilson, head football coach at Elizabeth City State, was read into the record. Wilson, a graduate assistant at Penn State during McQueary’s freshman year in 1992, testified about his desire to hire McQueary for an assistant coach position in 2013,, when Wilson had become head coach of Savannah State.
Wilson said he was prepared to hire McQueary, but was told by the school’s athletic director, Sterling Steward, that McQueary would be a controversial hire and that he didn’t want to detract from the team’s rebuilding efforts with attention “on the Penn State case.”