"It was an obvious error and could not be correct," said S. Daniel Carter, then a senior vice president for the Wayne-based Clery Center for Security on Campus. "I personally knew of other incidents that had been reported in 2002."
The incident is just one example of what former FBI Director Louis Freeh described in a report issued this month as the university's consistent and at times systematic failure to follow the Clery Act, a federal law requiring universities to provide accurate reports of crime on their campuses.
If true, those shortcomings are likely to loom large in the U.S. Department of Education's probe into Penn State's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse case - an investigation that some campus security experts have described as the Education Department's largest Clery investigation to date.
In November, the department requested a host of documents from Penn State, including logs of all crime reported to any campus security authorities from 1998 to 2011.
Should Penn State be found in violation, it could face fines of up to $27,500 per incident as well as a possible loss of federal aid including grants, loans, and work-study payments.
A department spokeswoman refused to discuss the current status of the investigation.
But Carter, the campus safety advocate who now works for a Virginia-based family outreach center, suspects that Penn State's eventual fines could exceed the largest Clery penalty ever assessed - the $350,000 paid by Eastern Michigan University after administrators there intentionally mischaracterized the 2006 murder of a student in her dorm room as a death by natural causes.
Carter said Penn State is hardly alone in failing to fully meet Clery reporting requirements.
A 2002 Justice Department study found nearly two-thirds of campuses fell short of full implementation. And since 2007, the Education Department has initiated 78 investigations and assessed fines totaling $1.4 million for noncompliance.
"So many people view the Clery Act as a bureaucratic obligation," he said. "Many schools were ignorant to the requirements, and when they did become aware of them, they met with institutional resistance."
The law is named after Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986.
It requires universities to disclose all sexual assaults, murders, robberies, and other crimes that occur on campus and in the surrounding community.
Police as well as other designated campus authorities - including coaches and athletic directors - are responsible for passing on reports even if they do not result in criminal charges.
At Penn State, Freeh found few officials were aware of the Clery Act and its requirements, and those in charge of monitoring compliance received little training and were often overworked.
From 1997 to 2007, one university police officer was assigned to compile Clery reports. When he asked for more personnel to handle the job of monitoring on-campus crime as well as incidents involving students off campus, he was told, "We don't have the money," the Freeh report said.
And even once risk-management assessments flagged Penn State's spotty record meeting the act's requirements, "awareness and interest in Clery Act compliance . . . remained significantly lacking," said Freeh.
"The university's incomplete implementation of the Clery Act was a contributing factor in the failure to report child sexual abuse committed by Sandusky," he said.
When a mother reported in 1998 that the former assistant football coach had inappropriately touched her 11-year-old son in a football locker room shower, Penn State Police Chief Thomas Harmon e-mailed Gary Schultz, then the university vice president in charge of campus police: "We're going to hold off on making a crime log entry. At this point in time I can justify that decision because of the lack of clear evidence of a crime."
No charges were filed, but police generated a 90-page report on their investigation. The incident was not included in Penn State's annual crime statistics as required by the Clery Act.
Three years later, three Penn State officials - Schultz, then-president Graham B. Spanier and Athletic Director Tim Curley - agreed not to notify authorities when a graduate assistant reported seeing Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Their e-mail exchange did not indicate any attempt to determine whether the alleged incident should be reported under the Clery Act, Freeh noted.
"The football program in particular opted out of most of the university's Clery Act, sexual abuse awareness and summer camp procedures training," according to his report.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said university president Rodney Erickson has accepted the Freeh report and its findings. The Freeh group made preliminary recommendations for improvement in January, and the board of trustees immediately began taking steps, he noted.
"President Erickson takes recommendations to the Clery Act very seriously," La Torre said.
But publicity surrounding the Sandusky case and the Freeh report has brought new attention to the Clery Act, campus safety advocates say. More schools are following in the lead of universities like Lehigh, which began training administrators annually on the law after Clery's murder and repeatedly informs students and faculty where they can find crime statistics for the Bethlehem, Pa., campus.
"We follow the letter of the law," said Lehigh Police Chief Edward Shupp, who investigated the freshman's slaying as a young sergeant. "In fact, we go above and beyond what is required. We feel the more education that's out there, the better for everyone involved."
Penn State has also taken steps to improve its Clery compliance since Sandusky's arrest, including hiring Gabriel Gates as its first full-time Clery Act compliance officer.
"Now, certainly not in any way that they would have wanted, Penn State has become a leader in this area," said Carter.
Since Gates started, the university has identified more than 3,000 employees and volunteers who have reporting responsibilities under the law and have provided training to about half. The rest will attend mandatory training sessions in the near future. The university's board also plans to review annually the campus' Clery reports.
"My focus hasn't been on the past," Gates said. "I've been given a clean slate to build a robust compliance program with a focus on the future."
Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.
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