Pennsylvania governor: Change law after Penn State scandal

A Penn State student shows her reaction to the child abuse scandal outside Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Story highlights

  • A new law should require a witness to tell law enforcement, a Pennsylvania legal expert says
  • Gov. Corbett: A new law may pass by the end of the year
  • Prosecutors have not charged McQueary or Paterno
  • Bachmann: If someone raped her child, she'd "want to beat him to a pulp"

Pennsylvania needs to change its law in the wake of a scandal over alleged child sexual abuse by a then-member of Penn State's football coaching team, the governor said Sunday.

A new law is needed to make sure reports of alleged child sexual abuse are made to government authorities, Tom Corbett said.

"Should the law be changed? Absolutely," Corbett said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Corbett was the attorney general who began an investigation of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

A 23-page grand jury report released last weekend described crimes that Sandusky allegedly committed against young boys between 1994 and 2009 -- some of them on campus, both during and after his tenure at at Penn State.

Sandusky's attorney, Joseph Amendola, has said that his client disputes the report.

In 2002, a graduate assistant allegedly saw Sandusky raping a boy in the showers of a campus athletics facility. The graduate student, Mike McQueary, informed Joe Paterno, the team's coach at the time, according to the grand jury report. Paterno then alerted his boss, the school's athletic director.

It was years before law enforcement first learned about the allegation.

Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz have been charged for failing to report the abuse to authorities and misleading investigators. Prosecutors determined that a legal duty to report the alleged abuse applied to them, but not to McQueary and Paterno.

Members of both political parties "have already introduced measures" to change the law, Corbett said when asked about Paterno. "And we have to make sure that the change in the law is one that is effective. It's easy enough to take a look to see what other states have done. But I'm sure that within the next few weeks, you will probably see bills become public.

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"I wouldn't be surprised to see if a bill was passed between now and the end of this year," he said.

McQueary, who was later promoted to a full-time assistant coach, eventually described the alleged incident in graphic detail to the grand jury. He was placed on administrative leave Friday.

The grand jury report says that Schultz and Curley were "senior staff" of the university. "Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting statute for suspected child abuse ... provides that when a staff member reports abuse ... the person in charge of the school or institution has the responsibility and legal obligation to report or cause such a report to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours" to the Department of Public Welfare, according to the report. "An oral report should have been made to the Centre County Children and Youth Services," it said.

Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law states that anyone who, in the course of employment, "comes into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made ... when the person has reasonable cause to suspect" that the child is a victim of abuse.

The law states that when the person is required to report "as a member of the staff of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, that person shall immediately notify the person in charge." The person in charge ultimately has the responsibility to report the alleged incident to government authorities.

Jerry McHugh, a prominent Philadelphia attorney who represents victims of abuse but is not currently representing anyone involved in the Penn State scandal, told CNN Sunday a new law is needed to state that "if you eyewitness the abuse, you have a direct obligation to go to law enforcement."

Legal analyst Holly Hughes told CNN that when Paterno told his boss and no report was given to the authorities, "that is where they failed. That's where they fall down on the job."

There is also speculation that Pennsylvania's whistle-blower laws may apply to, and protect, McQueary.

Legal analyst and civil rights attorney Avery Friedman said the case highlights the need for "a re-examination of what is called the mandatory reporter law."

"The argument being advanced in Pennsylvania is that as long as you tell the boss, you're covered. And that's where -- I think if we zero in on the issue -- where the problem is. If victims are going to be protected, you have to go to law enforcement, and that didn't happen here," Friedman said.

Outside of the legal concerns, many question why McQueary did not stop what he allegedly saw happening in the showers in 2002.

"How does McQueary, a 28-year-old grad student, look in the showers of a facility and see a grown man raping a 10-year-old child and not instinctively grab a baseball bat and not protect this child? How does he live with himself?" asked Richard Hermann, legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.

Before announcing his administrative leave, the university said McQueary would not coach Penn State's Saturday football game against Nebraska due to "multiple threats."

The newspaper Patriot-News reported Friday that McQueary told players on a brief conference call that he was in "protective custody" at a secluded location.

Paterno, meanwhile, was fired last week. The school's Board of Trustees also ousted Graham Spanier, the school president, who had initially voiced support for Curley and Schultz following the release of the grand jury report.

Corbett, who now serves as a trustee on the Penn State board, made the rounds on three Sunday political talk shows, though he cautioned that his comments were limited by legal obligations due to the ongoing investigation.

Asked by "Fox News Sunday" how the school could have allowed Sandusky's alleged activities to continue for years, Corbett said, "What I saw was a failure to act, and I always have said your actions speak louder than your words."

GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who happened to appear on "Meet the Press" after Corbett, was asked about the scandal.

"If that was my child," she said of the allegations, her "automatic reaction would be, even though I'm a small woman, I'd want to go find that guy and beat him to a pulp."

But Bachmann said the case belongs within the state's jurisdiction, and that she does not see a role for Congress in the response.

On Saturday, tens of thousands packed Penn State's football stadium, cheering the Nittany Lions for the first time since the graphic allegations rocked the university and led to the ouster of longtime coach Paterno, who until days ago was a beloved school icon and the winningest coach in top-level college football history. Penn State lost to Nebraska 17-14.