Penn State’s leadership kept the university’s public information director out of the loop about Jerry Sandusky between a media inquiry in 2010 until “all hell broke loose” in November 2011 with the release of the grand jury presentment, the employee testified Tuesday.
“Our office had no idea,” said Lisa Powers, the university’s top spokeswoman whose duty is to promote its positive image.
“We did not anticipate the presentment, we did not anticipate the fallout, and we were inundated with media from everywhere,” Powers said. “I didn’t answer my phone, and I couldn’t answer my email. There were just too many of them.”
Powers provided testimony for the prosecution on the second day of the preliminary hearing of former Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Powers’ testimony mostly related to the inner workings of Old Main as leaders fielded sporadic issues about Sandusky through the days after the presentment was released. Spanier seemed to watch intently during the testimony of Powers, who had been his speechwriter before taking over as the public information director in 2007 and was described as a family friend.
The prosecution zeroed in on several never-seen-before email exchanges to show that the issue of Sandusky reared its head several times in the year before the presentment’s release and that the university’s leadership did not appear to do anything to get ahead or investigate it.
Powers testified that she was one of several people who got an email in September 2010 from a Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter asking if anyone knew of any investigation into Sandusky. The email was sent by blind carbon copy, or bcc, to Spanier, Powers and another spokesman, Bill Mahon.
Spanier responded about an hour after receiving the email: “I haven’t heard this. Can you tell me more?” The reporter never responded, Powers said.
Powers testified she spoke with another employee who had found something about Sandusky touching boys that was posted on an online message board on a bodybuilder’s website. Powers said she and the employee noted the title of Sandusky’s autobiography, “Touched,” but when Powers went to find the message board, the comment had been removed.
Powers said she learned of another potential Sandusky-related issue when she was told that the reporter had camped outside the home of former Penn State police chief Thomas Harmon, who retired in 2005.
Powers said she was told by Al Horvath –— then the university’s senior vice president for finance and business — there was an investigation into Sandusky, but it had been closed.
The prosecution presented an email by Spanier to Horvath that Powers was only given enough information so she could field media inquiries without “exacerbating the situation.”
Powers testified she received another media inquiry in March 2011 about Sandusky, to which Powers responded the university didn’t know about any investigation and that Sandusky was a former Penn State employee who retired 10 years earlier.
Then, in late March 2011, when a grand jury investigation into Sandusky was revealed in a news report, Powers learned that senior leadership had gone to testify to the grand jury.
Caught off-guard, Powers sought information about the grand jury process from Cynthia Baldwin, who was then the university’s general counsel.
According to Powers’ testimony, Baldwin made the news report out to be a non-issue. Powers said Baldwin told her the grand jury investigation was a “fishing expedition” and had convened three times before and found nothing.
Powers said she was concerned that senior administrators had testified, but Baldwin never mentioned her role in accompanying Curley, Schultz or Spanier to the grand jury.
Seven months later, on Oct. 28, 2011, Powers was called into a meeting with Spanier, Baldwin, Mahon and the trustees chairman at the time, Steve Garban.
She testified she was told that a presentment was coming, and that Curley and Schultz may be indicted on perjury charges.
Spanier offered nothing but his “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz, whom he thought were being targeted.
“He began by telling us that two senior leaders could be charged with lying and knew for a fact that this was wrong,” Powers said. “He knew with certainty that they had handled everything appropriately. He indicated he had never seen the 1998 report and neither had Tim Curley.
“He said that when he was told about the 2001 incident, that it was described to him as horseplay.”
Powers also testified about a series of news releases issued after the presentment came out. Powers said Spanier continued to show his support for the indicted Schultz and Curley and even included statements of innocence that were drafted by their respective defense attorneys.
Powers testified she thought that including the lawyers’ statements was further than the university should go.