Wednesday, August 20

Were Tom Harmon and Wendell Courtney untruthful about the 2001 incident?

Courtney and Harmon's roles, responsibilities, and relationships in the Sandusky case raise serious questions about their statements regarding lack of knowledge of the 2001 incident. 

Ray Blehar

Former PSU legal counsel Wendell Courtney and former University Park police Chief Tom Harmon are two individuals who have essentially escaped scrutiny for their roles related to the 2001 Sandusky incident.  

Ironically, they are the only PSU persons involved with the incident who only had regular contact with Sandusky and/or The Second Mile outside of the workplace.  

Harmon at one time lived at 120 Norle Street in Lemont and was Sandusky's neighbor. The two men also attended St. Paul's Methodist church.  

Courtney, by virtue of his wife Linette being a member of the The Second Mile (TSM) board from 1998 to 2005, would have routinely seen Sandusky at TSM fundraisers and events.  According to a TSM board member, the charity expected 100% participation and donations from its board members at every event.  Wendell and Linette typically donated between $1,000 and $1,500 per year to TSM during the time she served and after the time she stepped down from the board.  According to the charity's Annual Reports, they last donated in 2009 (year ending August 31, 2009).

In 2009, Wendell Courtney was retained by TSM as counsel and assisted them in the Sandusky matter.  An NBC news article noted that Courtney assisted with the subpoena for the expense records that had gone missing from TSM's storage facility.

These men's connections to Sandusky and, in Courtney's case,  TSM deserve consideration as possible motivations for them to act outside PSU's interests in response to the Sandusky scandal.  

Tom Harmon

In Harmon's case, he was a witness for the prosecution, as well as being exempted from the Freeh investigation at the request of the Attorney General. The latter point was rather disconcerting, considering that Freeh was conducting an alleged "full" investigation but wasn't allowed to talk to the Chief of police who was involved in both the 1998 and 2001 incidents.

1998:  Harmon's testimony at the July 2013 preliminary hearing regarding the 1998 police file and called into question his credibility as a witness.  Harmon stated he didn't recall ever giving the 1998 police report to Schultz, nor did he recall Schultz ever asking for it  (page 174).

That testimony likely took a chunk out of the prosecution's perjury charge that Schultz lied about his knowledge of the 1998 file, as well as, what was meant by "reviewed 1998 history" in the Schultz "secret file" note from 12 February 2001.  

Of course, neither the Patriot News (i.e., Charles Thompson) or any of the other local media chose to report anything about Harmon's faulty memories.  However, in a recurring pattern, Thompson reported a blatant falsehood that Schultz had inquired about the 1998 file from Harmon. 

"In 2001, and shortly after Shultz would have received McQueary’s account of the Lasch Building incident involving Sandusky, Harmon testified that Schultz asked him an out-of-context question about documentation of the 1998 report."

Harmon was very reliant on documents and leading questions by the prosecution in order to recall the events of 1998, even with that assistance, he erred in stating that Detective Schreffler and DPW agent Jerry Lauro had interviewed Sandusky at his home (page 136).  The last page of the 1998 police report  was clear that the incident took place in the locker room.  In addition, Harmon also testified that the Victim 6 incident occurred between 7-9 AM on Sunday, May 3rd, rather than 7-9 PM.  This error was of Harmon's own making because when he changed the title page of the police report, he also entered the incorrect time.  

While Harmon's memory was very unreliable to the unbiased observer, his overall trustworthiness and honesty also should have been called into question regarding his mislabeling of the 1998 police report.  Again, this is a case where the media completely ignored history and went along with Harmon's testimony (page 78) that he mislabeled the file as to avoid "premature publicity" about the investigation.  

Triponey:  Noted football players being
arrested at a greater rate than other students
Harmon retired from the University Park police force in 2005, however during the period from 2000 to 2005, football player's names were being splashed across the newspapers at a frequent rate.  It didn't appear that Harmon was the least bit worried about publicity compromising those investigations.  Note, that this was overlapping with the time-frame that Vicky Triponey was complaining that the football players were being arrested at a much greater rate than other students.  Many of these football player arrests were for alcohol related charges and other hi-jinks on campus, at which most other colleges and universities, the police likely would have looked the other way.  

It also should come as little surprise that Harmon would make that assertion about avoiding publicity, given it was the prosecution's "pet" reason for the alleged PSU cover-up.  However, Harmon's concern about publicity was indeed genuine in one regard -- the embarrassment it could cause his former neighbor, Sandusky and their church

Conclusion 1: Protecting his friend, Sandusky, and their church from public embarrassment was very likely Harmon's motivation for filing the police report as "Administrative Information."

2001:  As a prosecution witness, it was Harmon's contention that even though he was conversing with Schultz about the 1998 police file on February 12, 2001, Schultz never informed him of that incident.  Few in the media (and the public) have questioned the veracity of Harmon's statement, likely because Schultz was being made out to be a liar and a child abuse enabler.  However, Harmon's testimony deserved scrutiny and when honestly reviewed revealed the former police chief had a very poor memory.  In addition, Harmon, as a mandated reporter was motivated to say he had no knowledge of the case, otherwise he could have been charged with failure to report (FTR).

Faulty Memory

Harmon also was adamant that if he was told that Sandusky had been involved in another incident, he would have surely remembered it.  But Harmon's faulty memory was exposed repeatedly under cross-examination by his lack of recall of serious incidents that took place on campus in 2001.  

Eventually, the defense got Harmon to admit that he was only able to testify about the incidents in question after refreshing his memory be reviewing documents.

Avoiding Arrest

The second part of the veracity issue regards Harmon as a police officer was a mandatory reporter of child abuse.  Obviously, if he was told about the 2001 incident he violated the law by not reporting it, therefore it was in his self-interest to say Schultz never told him about it.  Given the fact that Harmon sought out the 1998 police file just a day after Schultz learned of the incident, it strains credulity that Schultz didn't tell Harmon what had transpired.  It's highly likely that the Attorney General cut a deal with Harmon not to charge him with FTR in exchange for his testimony that Schultz didn't tell him what transpired in 2001. 

Tom Harmon:  Motivated to lie to about his
knowledge of 2001 to avoid arrest for FTR.
Logically, Harmon, as the Chief of police, would have been the "point man" for either Schultz or Courtney for contacting CYS and/or the local DA to initiate an investigation (as Schreffler did when he received a report on Sandusky from the mother of Victim 6 in 1998).  Harmon was contacted within the 48 hour window that PSU had to make an abuse report, therefore it is very possible the either Schultz or Courtney requested he contact the appropriate parties.

At the preliminary hearing, Gary Schultz's grand jury testimony was read into the record.  Schultz repeatedly testified (pages 212-215) that he believed that someone from PSU had contacted the local child welfare agency about the 2001 incident for investigation.

The timeline and evidence regarding the 2001 incident also indicates that Schultz and Curley's planned to interview Sandusky on Friday, February 16th were delayed.  In fact, the timelines between the 1998 and 2001 cases are very similar.  It is entirely possible that Harmon was manipulating the process to provide the appearance (to Schultz) that CYS was investigating.  

Finally, Harmon had retired from the University Park police in 2005 and was enjoying retirement in State College -- as many of us hope to do some day.  However, in August 2011, just months before the scandal hit, Harmon moved to Pittsburgh.  Was this just another coincidence?

In summary, Harmon may have unilaterally made the decision not to report Sandusky to the authorities in 2001 to protect his former neighbor and church from embarrassment. When interviewed by the AG in 2011, Harmon likely cut a deal to avoid being charged.

Conclusion 2:  Harmon's self-interest to avoid being charged with failure to report child abuse likely caused him to lie about Schultz failing to tell him about the 2001 incident.

Wendell Courtney

In the early days of the scandal, some attention was paid to Courtney because of his ties to TSM, but as the scandal was skewed into a Penn State scandal only, curiosity and reporting on Courtney faded (as it did for TSM).  Those early stories focused on the question of whether Courtney had knowledge of the 1998 incident and the grand jury report's allegation that he was serving as the legal counsel for both TSM and PSU in 1998.   However, his eventual termination as legal counsel for PSU and subsequent hire by TSM should have raised more questions about his role in the scandal.

1998:  The Sandusky grand jury presentment (page 9) reported that Schultz had consulted Courtney about the 1998 incident (but failed to state Courtney was consulted about the 2001 incident).  It also reported that Courtney "was then and remains counsel for The Second Mile."

The Second Mile

Courtney immediately denied that he was the counsel for TSM in 1998 and attempted to correct the record.  However, AG press officer Nils Frederiksen refuted Courtney's claim arguing that it was "semantics" and that the point was that Courtney had knowledge of the 1998 investigation.  The question of Courtney's employment was resolved later in an article in the ABA Journal. TSM's new Executive Director David Woodle stated that Courtney was not retained by TSM until 2009.  This refuted the statement in the grand jury presentment, as well as Frederiksen's rebuttal.

Knowledge of the 1998 investigation

The question of whether or not Courtney had knowledge of the 1998 incident can be solved by comparing evidence for and evidence against.   

Evidence for:  Gary Schultz's grand jury testimony (page 217)  that "perhaps" Courtney was consulted in 1998 is the only evidence that indicates Courtney's knowledge of the incident.  It was that testimony that was the basis for the statement on page 9 of the grand jury presentment and it is dubious at best.

Evidence against:  When PSU received the report of abuse allegations against Sandusky on the morning of May 4th, 1998, Detective Schreffler contacted ADA J. Karen Arnold at 4:00PM that day to alert her to the investigation.  According to the Freeh Report (page 43), Schreffler did so, at least in part, so he didn't have "to worry about Old Main sticking their nose in the investigation."

At 5:00PM on May 4th and at May 5th prior to 9AM, Harmon provided Schultz with updates of the investigation (Freeh Report exhibits 2H and 2I).  There is no mention of Courtney in Schultz's handwritten notes memorializing the discussions.  Also, Courtney is not mentioned in any of the e-mails related to 1998 nor is he an addressee or a courtesy copy on them.

Conclusion 3:  The evidence does not support that Wendell Courtney had  contemporaneous knowledge of the 1998 investigation of Jerry Sandusky.

Courtney:  Obstruction in the
 recent Sandusky investigation?
2001:  Courtney's claim that he had no knowledge of sexual misconduct in the 2001 incident also appears to be truthful.

Courtney stated that "whether in 1998 or in 2002 (sic) or any other point in time, was I made aware or did I have knowledge of Jerry Sandusky engaging in sexual misconduct with young children."

Courtney's timesheet (Freeh Report exhibit 5A) from February 11, 2001 states that he spent 2.9 consulting and conducting research into the "reporting of suspected child abuse."  The word "sexual" does not appear on that record.  Also, Schultz contacted Courtney about the incident after discussing the incident with Paterno and Curley, but before speaking with McQueary, therefore it is unlikely that Schultz reported sexual misconduct.  According to McQueary, he didn't get into details with Paterno.  Paterno also stated he stopped McQueary early in the discussion due to the then-grad assistant being upset.

However, where Courtney veers into dubious territory is in his discussion of the files maintained (or more correctly, files that he failed to maintain) about 2001 Sandusky incident.  

According to the Freeh Report (page 83) on December 28, 2010, Schultz contacted Courtney regarding any information he may have had about Sandusky.  On December 30th, Courtney responded that the "last thing in my Penn State file" was the 1999 Sandusky retirement letter.

As proven by the billing record, Courtney should have had a record memorializing the consultation he made with Schultz regarding the 2001 incident.  Additionally, Courtney could have also searched his billing records to see if he had performed work regarding the incident.

In an e-mail to Cynthia Baldwin on January 9, 2011 (Freeh Report, page 84), Courtney wrote that we "don't have any file on the matter you and I discussed yesterday....I recall that someone (I don't think it was me, since if it was I would have written documentation of contact) contacted Children and Youth Services to advise of the situation."  

Courtney was also consulted about how to handle the January 7, 2010 grand jury subpoena that requested all employment and personnel records for Sandusky.  

The Freeh Report (page 82) stated that the lawyer handling the request was a PSU employee and that person did not tell Courtney the subpoena concerned Sandusky.  I find that statement hard to believe, given that Courtney was the lead counsel for PSU at the time and was treated in the same manner as any other Vice-President at the University.  Even so,Courtney also should have had some record on this consultation on file or in his billing records.

These deficiencies in record keeping begs the question, did Courtney expunge the records in his Penn State file after being retained by TSM to represent them in the Sandusky case?

Did disgruntlement contribute to PSU's records going missing?

McQuaide Blasko (MB) had provided legal services to Penn State for over half a century, however in the late Spring of 2009, the Board of Trustees recommended to Spanier that PSU should have its own in-house counsel.  It is quite a coincidence that this proposal bubbled up at the time that the Sandusky investigation had made its way to then-Attorney General, Tom Corbett.

Spanier did not immediately embrace the idea and requested that then VP of Business and Finance, Al Horvath, contract for an outside review.  The review concluded that MB was providing good service, but recommended that a small inside General Counsel's (GC) office be established while maintaining most of the legal services via contract.

Baldwin: Looked like a great hire...
...but turned out to be a disaster.
Eventual GC Cynthia Baldwin, in her role as emeritus trustee, was present at the BOT meetings in which the in-house counsel proposal was discussed.  After the approval of the proposal, Baldwin approached Spanier and offered to take the GC position.

Spanier believed Baldwin would be a wonderful choice, given her legal background as a former judge and that she was the former head of the PSU Alumni Association and also served as Co-Chair and Chair of the BOT.   The compensation committee, composed of Surma, Broadhurst, Garban, and Strumpf, were also enthusiastic about the hire.  Baldwin's hire was announced in January 2010 and she took over as GC on February 15th.

Conversely, MB was not at all pleased with the decision.  

One MB employee remarked that Baldwin had been foisted on PSU.  In addition, once Baldwin was in place as GC, she began taking work away from MB and moving it to her old firm, Duane Morris.

Therefore, between Courtney being removed as PSU's top legal advisor, reductions of business at MB by PSU, and his role representing TSM in the Sandusky case, he certainly had motivations to give PSU some pay back (e.g., expunging the 2001 records).  

Now, combine that with the fact that TSM's records related to Sandusky also went missing and it appears that one could make a fair case for obstruction of the investigation by Courtney.

Conclusion 4:  Courtney's failure to possess and maintain records related to the Sandusky case is highly questionable and has the appearance of obstruction of the investigation. 

In summary, it appears that both Tom Harmon and Wendell Courtney has sufficient motivation to be less than truthful about their respective roles in the 2001 Sandusky incident.  Certainly, if the case of the PSU Three ever gets to trial, the defense will be able to raise many issues of reasonable doubt when Harmon and Courtney are called to testify.


  1. Ray, thanks, but my head is going to explode. It's really funny/sad that the people actually charged do not have the motivation and means as the other player's in this tragedy.

  2. Why couldn't Harmon be charged with obstruction of justice for deliberately misfiling the 1998 Sandusky investigation? According to the Attorney General's investigators, that misfiling obstructed their investigation.

    I still don't believe Harmon wouldn't have asked Schultz why he was asking about the 1998 Sandusky investigation in 2001. It would have been perfectly natural for Harmon to reply "Why do you ask?"