Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Strong Defense of Joe Paterno: Why Paterno Was Morally & Ethically Right Not To Go Further in The Sandusky Sex Abuse Case

In the comments section of an article in an SI online blog post by Joe Posnanski, Columbia Univ. Adjunct Professor Scott Semer assails Joe Paterno for not taking greater actions in the Jerry Sandusky case (Link is to the actual Grand Jury Report. It is not for the squeamish.)

Semer rests his opinions as a lawyer and an Adjunct Professor of Transactional Law at Columbia Univ. in NYC. He takes what I believe is the majority opinion as to Coach Paterno's decisions which is that he did the least he could do to cover himself but owed a moral duty to do more.

I too am an attorney, a criminal defense lawyer, a former special prosecutor, and an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy, and as to his judgment of Paterno I completely disagree with Professor Semer. I think Paterno did what was both morally and legally correct.

After contacting his chain of command superiors, he let them do their jobs. He knew there was a campus police force that investigates ( and prosecutes ) crimes on campus. He took whatever information he had to the head of his department. He took it to the person who is, for all intents and purposes, the police commissioner of a 256 person police force which according to the Campus website says: "(The University Police are) governed by a state statute that gives our officers the same authority as municipal police officers."

Paterno didn't just give his information to a superior, he turned it over to the highest ranking official in that police department. That man, PSU's VP of Business called in the ACTUAL WITNESS and spoke to him. In other words Paterno could see an investigation.

Suggesting Paterno should have then done more is both ridiculous and dangerous. Paterno should not have approached Sandusky,for fear he tip him off to the investigation; he should not have called University police after nothing happened because 1. A police department has a right to set its policing priorities. The Courts have consistently held that: it is a "fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981).
2. Once he reported the incident (and not having any information as to the progress of any investigation or the results thereof) Paterno had no other action he could reasonably take. If he pressed further or went public he risked opening himself and the University up to a law suit from Sandusky for libel , and that is assuming Paterno thought the grad assistant was both reliable and accurate. By that person's own admission he was distraught. He would be accused of trying to eliminate a potential competitor for his job. He would also call into question the safety of the campus and without any proof of his own on the allegations of another. Pattern is not a witness and arguably isn't even an "outcry witness." ( an outcry witness is one who verifies that another witness was so distraught that what they are saying must be true. To be an outcry witness the original witness must make his statement to you first and within a few minutes top hours after witnessing the incident. More than a couple of hours usually spoils the outcry's reliability. It gives the maker too much time to make up the testimony)
3. Assuming Paterno did go to the Chief of Police for the Penn State police department, the person under Gary Schultz, would that not be an act of insubordination? What if he were wrong? He would lose a long time friend and PSU family member. He would hurt alums, recruits and his teams. His fellow coaches could not trust him, all of this without being an actual witness to anything. Taking one man's word against anothers.

Noone wants to see kids hurt, and I believe Coach Paterno heads that list. People suggesting he needed to do more either don't understand the law of criminal investigation, or have a different ax to grind ( like the head of the PA State Police who is grand standing in saying people have a greater responsibility than to report crime to the local Authority. He would be the first guy to defend a civil rights suit against his agency, (brought by a crime victim claiming that the failure to arrest caused her injuries) by invoking the Warren case.)

Paterno handled this exactly as he should have and to suggest otherwise is to use 20/20 hindsight to judge what was a fluid real time situation. I guess the path is always clear for the Monday Morning Quarterback.