Penn State Scandal Spotlights Campus Law Enforcement

The sexual abuse allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has led to an upheaval at the renowned university and the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. The bigger issue presented by this scandal is the fact that in a majority of the larger colleges and universities, law enforcement is the responsibility of police personnel who report to university authorities, rather than the general public.

The substantial discretion afforded to local campus police in determining whether to refer cases to police and prosecutors answerable to the public rather than school authorities has resulted in some tragic cases in universities throughout the United States, and the promulgation of The Clery Act in 1990. The Clery Act was named for Jeanne Clery, a 19 year old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered by another student in her residence hall in 1986.

The Clery Act, also known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure Of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crimes on and off their campuses. Enforcement of the Act is monitored by the United States Department of Education, and mandates that institutions give timely warnings of crimes that could be a threat to the safety of students and school employees. A violation of the Clery can result in fines of up to $27,000 for each violation.

Prior to the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky at Penn State, which spanned a 15 year period and at least 8 victims (although there have been numerous reports of additional victims coming forward), there have been several sexual abuse cases in U.S. colleges and universities in which the rights and interests of students received short shrift and the Clery Act appears to have been violated. These include:

Two alleged sexual assaults at Marquette University in October of 2010 and February of 2011 involving student athletes, who were allowed to meet with coaches prior to discussing the incidents with campus police. Apparently, the campus police never notified the Milwaukee Police Department about either alleged assault;
The case of an Eastern Michigan University freshman whose body was found naked from the waist down with a pillow over her head in her dorm room in 2006. The Chief of University Police shockingly found “no reason to suspect foul play” and led her parents to believe that she died of natural causes. The University kept quiet for two full months about the fact that the student eventually convicted in her murder had been previously apprehended climbing into a university building window;

An Arizona State student who was raped in her dorm room in 2004 by a football player who had been expelled from a summer class at the University for threatening and sexually harassing several women on campus. The student was readmitted to the university within weeks of his expulsion at the request of his coach.

The Eastern Michigan University case resulted in a federal investigation and lawsuit that was resolved with Eastern Michigan paying the victims’ family $2.5 million. In the Arizona State University case, the student received a settlement of $850,000 for a violation of her Title IX rights to be free of a hostile environment, with the exact statutory language of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requiring that: “”No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Arizona State was also required to revise its sexual assault policies and appoint a student safety coordinator.

As for the Marquette University assault cases, they are still being reviewed by the Education Department as to Clery Act violations.

Penn State is now under investigation for its own potential violations of the Clery Act. Further, the scandal has placed the school under the scrutiny of the Education Department’s Civil Rights Division, which sent out a letter this past April to all colleges and universities that accept federal money warning them that they must take cases of sexual violence more seriously and in accordance with Title IX to prevent a hostile environment which would impede equal access to education.

Contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers online or toll free at (914) 428-7386 for a free initial consultation if you are charged with a crime to discuss your legal rights and options.

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