Young victims surrounded Jerry Sandusky in 1998
Why didn’t DA Ray Gricar make a serious attempt
to find and interview them?
Finger pointing and the blame games won’t answer these questions
Public hearings might
At the time of his strange disappearance in 2005, Centre County PA District Attorney Ray Gricar enjoyed a reputation as an honest, competent and no-nonsense law enforcement officer.
“Ray would prosecute his own mother,” or so goes the myth.
The record in Jerry Sandusky’s case forces a reexamination of vanished Gricar’s career and reputation.
In the Sandusky case, Ray Gricar badly fell down on the job, and put an unknown number of young boys at risk.
On the evening of May 3, 1998, Jerry Sandusky drove 11-year-old Zach home after showering with the boy on the Penn State campus.
Years later, in 2012, a grown Zach would testify against Sandusky at trial.
Sandusky, Zach testified, “lifted me up to the showerhead to get the soap out of my hair, and I believe my chest was to his chest. I don’t — I can’t remember — I don’t think it was touching, but I just remember going into the showerhead and having to close my eyes so the soap wouldn’t get in my eyes. And that’s the last thing I remember about being in the shower. It’s just kind of black.”
Zach’s memory blackout would last to this day.
On the night of Zach’s shower with Sandusky, May 3, 1998, Zach’s mother, Deb McCord, attended an award banquet for a local volunteer group. She returned home shortly after Sandusky dropped off Zach.
Zach told his mother he’d had a good time with Sandusky. Almost as an afterthought, on his way out of the room, the boy chattily told his mother, “We took a shower, just in case you’re wondering why my hair’s wet.”
His mother would say it was an odd habit of her son’s to “add topics he finds upsetting at the end of talk.”
She went to her son’s room a few minutes later to tuck him in to bed and noticed his hair was wet. Zach had apparently taken another shower.
She asked what happened.
“I knew you’d make a big deal out of it,” Zach told her. He didn’t want to get Sandusky in trouble. He wanted to go to the football games and sit on the bench. He wanted to look at the Internet on Jerry’s computer. As for taking a shower, he said Coach Sandusky told him, “All the guys do!”
The first thing the next morning McCord heard Zach showering yet again.
None of this sat right with Deb McCord. Alarm bells went off.
She began a flurry of activity that would put Sandusky in a lot of hot water outside the shower room, and would have gotten him arrested, if several Pennsylvania officials had only done their jobs.
Zach was already seeing a psychologist for some behavioral issues. His mom immediately called the psychologist’s emergency voicemail line. She asked the therapist to return her call quickly, before her other kids awoke.
The psychologist, Alycia Chambers, recalled that McCord told her, “‘I need you to tell me I’m crazy,’ because she did not want to believe that her suspicions were true.”
Chambers told Zach’s mother that she “was not overreacting and that she should proceed with reporting” her concerns about Sandusky showering with the boy.
It’s important to note that McCord and Chambers were independent of Sandusky’s Second Mile charity, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Penn State University, and the knot of conflicted interests and players that Sandusky had brought together in State College.
McCord knew a policeman’s wife, who shared with her some contact numbers for the police.
At 11 am that morning, May 4, 1998, McCord phoned Detective Ron Schreffler of the Penn State University police department. She complained that a member of the university staff had been showering with her son.
Schreffler worked for the university police department since 1972. One former officer with the department tells me that Schreffler was often given the department’s most important and “sensitive” cases, including those involving bomb scares and sports gambling.
Both Schreffler and psychologist Chambers would, in the days following, write reports about all this, providing us with some of the few contemporaneous records, and fresh memories, of these tangled events.
Officer Schreffler told McCord to bring her son down to the police department. The boy and his mother arrived within the half hour, Schreffler writes in his report.
From the start, Schreffler noticed several interesting things about young Zach.
Zach, Schreffler noted, was very cool, and didn’t seem to hold a grudge against Sandusky. Zach seemed to like Sandusky, and repeatedly said he didn’t to want to get the coach in any trouble. For the most part, the boy had a good memory (other than the blackout in the shower). And he was very talkative.
In other words, Zach was a policeman’s dream.
“He was very laid back,” Schreffler recalled years later of Zach. It was Zach’s mother who appeared to be the most agitated and upset.
Schreffler immediately set about to tape-record an interview with Zach. The boy repeated his account of what happened the night before with Sandusky.
Talking with Zach and his mother, Det. Schreffler soon learned that Zach had a friend named Brendan with whom Sandusky also wrestled and squeezed in the shower. Like Zach, Brendan was enrolled in Second Mile programs.
For years, we now know, Sandusky molested other Second Mile kids, like Matt, Dustin and Brett — and doubtless others — with impunity.
It’s worth stepping back for a moment to consider what Police Detective Schreffler knew on May 4, 1998.
Det. Schreffler at that early date had one victim who was talking, and he knew the identity of a second victim.
Years later, in 2012, when Sandusky was finally brought to trial, the testimony of young witnesses like these — now grown men — would convict the former coach.
Back in 1998 it would be the job of the cops, and caseworkers, and ultimately District Attorney Ray Gricar, to find the other victimized kids, interview them, and stop Sandusky from doing more harm.
They would all fail miserably.
Like many small-town cops, PSU’s Detective Schreffler had some idea what to do. He also had an idea what not to do with the case.
The same afternoon he interviewed Zach, Det. Schreffler took two important steps.
At about 1 pm, he reported Zach’s story to the Centre County Children and Youth Services (CYS). He spoke with caseworker John Miller.
At 4 pm, Schreffler contacted Centre County Assistant District Attorney Karen Arnold, who worked for DA Ray Gricar.
“I contacted (the DA’s office) early on in the investigation because of the allegations and the fact that Karen Arnold was the assistant district attorney that was handling child-related cases, so I wanted to get them on board right away,” Schreffler says.
Much of what we know about this murky and complex time period comes from the report produced fourteen years later, in 2012, by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by Penn State.
Schreffler would explain to Louis Freeh’s staff in January 2012 that, “he decided to call the prosecutor at the outset of the investigation so he did not have to ‘worry about Old Main sticking their nose in the investigation,’ which he knew from experience could occur.”
In other words, Det. Schreffler was concerned about possible interference from his higher-ups at Penn State. With good cause, it turns out.
During their first phone conversation, Assistant DA Karen Arnold directed Detective Schreffler to interview “everyone” — including Zach’s friend Brendan — “as soon as possible.”
So now, at this early date, the DA’s office knew about both boys.
A few hours later, at 6 pm that same night, Center County Children and Youth Services (CYS) caseworker John Miller arrived at Schreffler’s office. At about 8 pm that night the two went together to Brendan’s house to interview the second boy.
Brendan’s story would be strangely similar to Zach’s. Brendan told the cop and the caseworker that he’d met Sandusky through the Second Mile program, and that he’d been on campus twice with the coach.
“Sandusky took (Brendan) to the gym to lift weights,” Schreffler wrote in his 1998 report. The boy “said that they used the treadmill and the universal gym. He also said that he wrestled ‘Jerry’ and he tried to pin Jerry.”
Brendan “went on to say that he had taken a shower with ‘Jerry.’ (W)hile in the shower ‘Jerry’ come up from behind and lifted him up in a bear hug. Brendan (used a chair to demonstrate) how he was hugged.”
The cops and the caseworkers now had two witnesses on record. And both boys were quite talkative and helpful.
Jerry Sandusky was tantalizingly close to getting caught, and stopped.
All the police now had to do, obviously, was to identify and interview the other Second Mile victims, such as Matt, Dustin, and Brett (and God knows who else), and Sandusky would be finished.
But unusual interference from higher-ups in the DA’s office, and state and local children and youth agencies, prevented any of that from happening.
Strangest of all, Penn State administrators high up in Old Main would be watching it all closely.
See no evil: Enter Ray Gricar and PA DPW
The next day, on May 5, 1998, officials at the Centre County Children and Youth office held a meeting to decide “what to do,” according to notes found in Freeh’s report.
CYS officials advised Detective Schreffler that they’d decided to kick the Sandusky matter upstairs, to their overseers in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare in Harrisburg.
The reasons for kicking the matter “upstairs,” and who was involved in this decision, aren’t clear.
The stated reason concerned conflicts of interest. But it was also because Sandusky was considered a VIP with a “high profile.”
Louis Freeh says there was the football program to think about. There were other considerations: Second Mile. Sandusky’s and Second Mile’s state-approved foster home. Referrals. Contracts. But there was also a pervasive good ol’ boys’ interest in making a possibly corrupt system seem to appear to have integrity.
It would turn out that the local Children and Youth Services office had multiple long-standing conflicts of interest with Sandusky and his Second Mile charity.
Second Mile worked closely with CYS in various ways. Since 1982 Second Mile ran a foster home in State College. CYS had contracts to place kids in the foster home, Louis Freeh would write. Over the years Second Mile also came to provide support for other foster care families with special events and outings.
As well, Second Mile’s executive director, Jack Raykovitz, held a contract with Centre County CYS to perform child evaluations.
But the conflicts ran deeper than that.
In his 2012 report (itself financed by Penn State), Freeh attempts to superficially explain some of what happened next, and why:
“There were several conflicts of interest with (Centre County) CYS’s involvement in the case (e.g., CYS had various contracts with Second Mile – including placement of children in a Second Mile residential program; the Second Mile’s executive director had a contract with CYS to conduct children’s evaluations; and the initial referral sheet from [psychologist Alycia] Chambers indicated the case might involve a foster child). In light of these conflicts, the (state) Department of Public Welfare (‘DPW’) took over the case from CYS on May 5, 1998. DPW officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania took the lead because of Sandusky’s high profile and assigned it to caseworker Jerry Lauro.”
Even so, the state DPW would soon inexplicably kick the matter back down to the county Children and Youth agency. No one seemed to be in charge.
(Freeh, for his part, would curiously not spend any time at all investigating or reporting on the failures of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and its role in all this.)
Detective Schreffler relates, “when I first contacted Centre County Children and Youth Services, they contacted the state Department of Welfare, stating that the state Department of Welfare was going to take over the investigation, and then it went back to the county. There was some confusion there.”
Nevertheless, state DPW investigator Jerry Lauro would now conduct the investigation with Detective Schreffler.
Within a few days, by May 8, state DPW officials asked Centre County CYS to enlist counselor John Seasock to interview Zach. (At the time, Seasock was not licensed by the state.) This despite the fact that Zach had already been “evaluated” by his own licensed state-registered psychologist, Dr. Chambers.
Seasock, I should add, was under contract with the county CYS agency.
As such, both the state and local children and youth protective agencies were already deeply involved, deeply conflicted, and share blame.
“We were totally against it,” Schreffler says of Seasock’s evaluation of Zach. “The District Attorney did not want it. The police did not want it.”
So who wanted Seasock involved?
“Children and Youth Services and the State Department of Welfare,” Schreffler recounts. But he mentions no names.
Freeh relates what happened next:
“During the (May 9) meeting with Seasock, the boy (Zach) described the incident with Sandusky. Given that the boy did not feel forced to engage in any activity and did not voice discomfort to Sandusky, Seasock opined that ‘there seems to be no incident which could be termed as sexual abuse, nor did there appear to be any sequential pattern of logic and behavior which is usually consistent with adults who have difficulty with sexual abuse of children.’ Seasock’s report ruled out that the boy ‘had been placed in a situation where he was being groomed for future sexual victimization.'” (This was at odds with psychologist Chambers’ evaluation; Chambers clearly recognized Sandusky’s grooming pattern.)
After speaking with Zach, CYS’s Seasock would issue a report exonerating Sandusky.
Freeh writes, “On May 9, 1998, Schreffler discussed the outcome of Seasock’s evaluation with Seasock. While Seasock said he identified some ‘gray areas,’ he did not find evidence of abuse and had never heard of a 52-year-old man ‘becoming a pedophile.’ When Schreffler questioned Seasock’s awareness of details of the boy’s experience, Seasock acknowledged he was not aware of many of the concerns Schreffler raised but stated Sandusky ‘didn’t fit the profile of a pedophile,’ and that he couldn’t find any indication of child abuse.”
Freeh, in his report, moreover notes, “Seasock served as an independent contractor at Penn State from 2000 to 2006. His first payment from Penn State was made on April 20, 2000 for $1,236.86. His total payments were $11,448.86. The Special Investigative Counsel did not find any evidence to suggest that these payments had any relation to Seasock’s work on the Sandusky case in 1998. According to the Second Mile’s counsel, there was no business relationship between Seasock and the Second Mile.”
I’ll note that Freeh himself was paid million of dollars by Penn State to produce his incomplete report, which many have since characterized as poorly undertaken, inaccurate, selective, a whitewash, and protective of Freeh’s own group of insiders. Attorney General and now Gov. Tom Corbett, and state child welfare agencies, were given the same blind eye by Freeh as these state officials gave Sandusky.
Freeh says it was about football. But was it really? Pennsylvania courts for years protected insider judges in Luzerne County who were selling thousands of kids down the river for bribes. No football there. The same court system protects a prostitution ring for years run out of the York County PA courthouse. That’s not about football, either. In the last decades, Pennsylvanians have seen the occupant of every row office in their state government save the governor prosecuted for corruption. Two state supreme court justices were belatedly removed from the bench in the last twenty years. No football there, either.
It’s about protecting insiders, not kids, and maintaining a false front of integrity in a very corrupt reality. And Louis Freeh, by protecting his own group of corrupt insiders, did the same thing. It’s all about keeping up appearances in the decline and fall of Pennsylvania.
The bottom line, of course, in State College in 1998, is that counselor Seasock got things wrong.
Seasock, whose job it was to ultimately protect kids, like DPW’s Lauro, got things dreadfully and tragically wrong.
So where’s the accountability for that?
DA Gricar orders appearance of an investigation
Even so, we should keep in mind, Seasock, the county Children and Youth Services, and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, did not, and do not, oversee the police, or the Centre County District Attorney’s office.
Likewise, the Children and Youth Services, and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, aren’t controlled by the police.
In practice, law enforcement is independent of the caseworkers, though the cops and the DA’s office coordinate their interviews and investigation with DPW and/or CYS caseworkers.
Penn State alum Ray Blehar, a government investigator by profession who’s spent more than a year going through the tangled public record of this case, points out to me that DPW and CYS, “are the only civil agencies charged with investigating child abuse cases — in cooperation with the police. You can see this is a confusing situation and demands further investigation through hearings.”
In any event, unfortunately for the kids, intentionally or not, the police and the caseworkers would soon appear to be cooperating not to investigate the case.
It’s hard, more than a decade later, to know who was calling the shots at CYS and DPW.
But, on the other hand, it’s well known who ultimately was in charge of law enforcement in State College.
The job of top cop belonged to District Attorney Ray Gricar.
A few days into the investigation, Gricar strangely intervened, and removed Assistant DA Karen Arnold from the case. This was certainly unusual.
“Ray was my boss and he said he would handle it,” former ADA Arnold told me. “I only had the Sandusky case for a few days. I don’t know why Ray handled it the way he did. I can’t read his mind. I’m not a mind reader.”
“I had talked to Karen Arnold, I would say, probably at least two or three occasions, and Mr. Gricar at least two occasions,” Det. Schreffler remembers.
As criminologists, and not social workers, Gricar and his law enforcement team had to do one thing, and one thing only, to crack the case: they had to identify and interview the many Second Mile kids surrounding and victimized by Jerry Sandusky.
Matt, Dustin, Brett and the others. In fact, a circa-1998 photo shows Sandusky surrounded by many of these victims.
But, inexplicably, no other children were interviewed.
No one would interview these kids for almost 15 years.
By that time they’d be grown men.
How hard could it have been to talk to Second Mile kids? This wasn’t the JFK assassination, or the AT&T antitrust case.
This has to be regarded as a monumental failure of law enforcement.
Detective Schreffler explains what instead happened next: “(I) contacted the DA’s office, gave them an update of what was going on, and there was a subsequent plan to make another phone call to Mr. Sandusky with the intent of having him come back to (Zach’s) house to solicit more conversation.”
Rather than trying to locate and interview more victimized Second Mile kids, DA Gricar’s plan became one of trying to trap Sandusky into implicating himself.
For some reason Gricar apparently thought everything hinged on a mea culpa from Sandusky. But it didn’t work.
The plan was to have Zach’s mom call Sandusky and to ask the coach to drop by her house as a subterfuge for the cops to overhear what he might say. This would happen not once but twice, while Det. Schreffler and two different State College borough cops eavesdropped from other rooms.
So now the borough cops were involved.
On one of these visits, Sandusky would tell Zach’s mother, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”
Freeh writes, “Sometime between May 27, 1998 and June 1, 1998, the local District Attorney (Ray Gricar) declined to prosecute Sandusky for his actions with the boy in the shower in the Lasch Building on May 3, 1998. A senior administrator of a local victim resource center familiar with the 1998 incident said the case against Sandusky was ‘severely hampered’ by Seasock’s report.”
Where the buck stops
DA Gricar’s defenders say that the case was fatally undercut by the actions of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and Seasock.
“Blaming Gricar is just blaming the dead guy,” investigator Blehar tells me. Too much blame directed at Gricar, he says he fears, will only serve to let DPW and CYS officials off the hook, and leave them unaccountable.
Then again, there’s plenty of unaccountability and blame to go around.
No doubt DPW failed its job and muddied the waters. (Freeh notes that DPW informed police on May 13, 1998 that the state agency wanted to “resolve the matter quickly.”)
But leaving the blame solely on the incompetence or conflicts of the state DPW and county Children and Youth Agency isn’t telling the whole story either.
The social workers, the psychologists, the cops and the DA’s office could have, had they chosen to do so, pushed the case, together or separately.
That’s what would finally break the case years later. (Read Clinton County CYS psychologist Mike Gillum’s account of how he did his job and pushed the issue with the cops and the AG’s office for three years, from 2008 to 2011, here.)
Instead, in 1998, those involved, including DA Ray Gricar, collectively decided not to push the case. This would lead to an unknown number of molested kids who could not get help and, years later, a blame game of endless finger pointing at the tangled mess.
From all this we see that success has many fathers, but failure, like a kid under care of CYS, DPW and the Second Mile, is often an orphan.
On June 1, 1998, perhaps even after DA Gricar decided to close the case, Schreffler and DPW’s Jerry Lauro interviewed Jerry Sandusky.
In their interview with Sandusky, Det. Schreffler took Seasock’s advice.
Freeh writes, “Seasock recommended that someone speak with Sandusky about what is acceptable with young children and explained, ‘The intent of the conversation with Mr. Sandusky is not to cast dispersion (sic) upon his actions but to help him stay out of such gray area situations in the future.'”
Schreffler explains that he and Lauro “advised (Sandusky) that we were investigating an allegation of an incident that occurred on May 3rd between 7 and 9 p.m. and started talking to him about Zachary. During the course of the interview, (we) asked him if he had ever been in the shower with other young boys. He stated that he had. He was asked if there was anything sexual that took place. He said not. He was concerned about the effect it would have on Zach as far as if he did anything to upset Zach. The interview as far as my questioning probably was about 15 minutes.
“I did say to (Sandusky), ‘I would tell you not to shower with young boys again,’ and he stated something to the effect he did think maybe it was inappropriate, that he wouldn’t do it again.”
Sandusky obviously was lying. Even so, he got the telegraph from DPW and DA Gricar.
Jerry Sandusky would never again attempt to shower with, or molest, Zach.
It would be a different story with other boys.
Detective Schreffler says he phoned DA Gricar after this June 1 interview with Sandusky.
“I felt there should be some charges, something, but the DA didn’t feel there should be,” Schreffler says.
It was DA Gricar’s decision, Schreffler adds.
At the end of his 12-page, 1998 police report, Det. Schreffler wrote, “Reporting Officer advised Sandusky not to shower with any child. Sandusky stated he wouldn’t. CASE CLOSED.”
It’s worth recapping the large number of officials and agencies that were ineffectively involved in this failed 1998 police incident: the Penn State University police; State College Borough Police; the Centre County DA’s office; Centre County Children and Youth Services (including unknown managers, a caseworker and a psychologist); the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (including unknown officials and an investigative caseworker).
Emails show PSU officials also in the loop
All this would be bad enough. It turns out another group of officials were in the loop.
Freeh’s 2012 report reproduced a series of emails dated in May and June 1998 between various Penn State university officials. The PSU emails discussed the police, the DPW and CYS caseworkers, and the ongoing investigation involving Zach, Brendan, and Sandusky.
On May 5, 1998, Penn State athletic director Tom Curley wrote the school’s vice president for finance, Gary Schultz:
“I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks.”
V.P. Schultz, the next day, May 6, replied in an email:
“Will do. Since we talked tonight I’ve learned that the Public Welfare people will interview the individual Thursday.”
The subject line of this email curiously reads, “Re: Joe Paterno.”
This email exchange was cc’d to Penn State president Graham Spanier. So at this early date the matter had already drawn the attention and involvement of top university officials.
On May 13, 1998, Tom Harmon, the director of Penn State Police Services, emailed Schultz:
“The psychologist from DPW spoke with the child. They have not spoken to him. It is still my understanding that they intend to do this. I have also been advised that they want to do this quickly.”
The line that really sticks in one’s craw is: “I have also been advised that they want to do this quickly.” Who are they? Why do they want to do this quickly? What is the interplay between these state officials and the Penn State administrators? Freeh sheds no light on this.
These email exchanges between Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Harmon would go on for the next month.
An email dated June 1, 1998, from PSU police director Harmon to Schultz begins,
“The DPW investigator and our officer met discreetly with Jerry this morning.”
The word “discreetly” is jarring. The entire long-running catastrophe, lasting decades, can best be summed up with the single word, “discretion.”
Discretion was not what these kids needed. They required action.
On June 9, 1998, Schultz emailed Curley, Spanier and Harmon,
“I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is behind us now.”
But the matter wasn’t “appropriately investigated.” It was deep-sixed.
And it wasn’t behind them.
Freeh would write in his controversial report that Penn State officials showed a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims” for 14 years, and so “empowered” Jerry Sandusky.
As I write, Spanier, Curley and Schultz await criminal trial.
The state and county DPW and CYS officials, on the other hand, are still being protected.
Smart career move
Plenty of other questions remain.
What about Ray Gricar?
Did DA Gricar, for example, consult with anyone in Harrisburg, at the state attorney general’s office? A review of Gricar’s telephone and correspondence records is warranted.
The bottom line is that none of these agencies or individuals did much to stop Jerry Sandusky, or to help the victimized kids who at this early date could have been easily found.
The obvious should be stated: a complete public investigation of this 1998 incident is required to determine the causes of these great systemic public failures, and to ask this seemingly simple question: why can’t kids get timely help in Pennsylvania?
And what about DA Ray Gricar?
Louis Freeh’s report notes, “The District Attorney at the time of the 1998 incident has been missing for several years and has been declared dead.”
DA Gricar was set to retire late in 2005 with a well-vested pension, a few months his mysterious and infamous disappearance in April 2005.
Had he lived, Ray Gricar certainly would have taken heat for not properly following through on the 1998 investigation involving Zach and Brendan.
Due to DA Gricar’s mistakes and inactions, Sandusky would be given a green light.
Thanks in large part to Gricar, Jerry Sandusky would proceed to molest a long list of kids with impunity.
Thanks to Ray Gricar, the stage was set for all that was to come.
For Ray Gricar, his disappearance would turn out to be a smart career move.
Note: As I finish writing this article, the Pennsylvania state police have announced they are finally taking over the Ray Gricar vanishing case, after almost nine years. It’s always been painfully obvious that the Bellefonte PA police force never had the resources to properly handle this case.