It seems that reports of racism on the campus of Penn State University are so commonplace that it’s hard to talk about them without resorting to clichés: There truly is nothing new under the sun. They definitely don’t surprise Edward Manigo. At 53 years old, he’s the Forrest Gump of State College, Pennsylvania, popping up throughout Happy Valley’s history with matter-of-fact stories about how the town’s seemingly persistent racism has touched his life. Here, he relays his story.
Joining The Fleet at Penn State
It all started when he met Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno in 1982. He was working in a nursing home near the university, and was taking care of JoPa’s mother. He confided in her that he wanted to work at the university, and the coach helped him get a job on campus just a few weeks later. “He was a good man,” Manigo says of Paterno. “It hurt me and my family when they fired Joe Paterno. That let me know they would do anything to hurt anyone,” Manigo says.
He was working with “The Fleet,” as the maintenance department was known to its workers. “I found it strange that out of the 2,000 people who worked there, there were only two African Americans. We were being harassed, and being called the n-word,” he says. Soon after he started, he repeatedly returned from his shift after a long day at work to find scratches on his car. After holding an impromptu stakeout in the other black worker’s car, he saw one of his white coworkers run his key across the car’s paint. When he confronted the man, he says he was called a nigger, and otherwise shrugged off. Manigo says he reported it to his supervisor and the Penn State police, but nothing happened. The next time he saw the coworker, the man spit in his face. They got into a fight, and he says that no one in the room — except the other black man — would tell the truth about what had transpired. It was just the beginning of his troubles in the tiny town, where the black population is just 3.8% of the total 42,000.
Reporting Jerry Sandusky
Manigo was transferred to the janitorial team, working nights cleaning the bathrooms in the gym. He believes this was the result of the altercation with his coworker. One night soon after he took over the new shift, he saw an unexpected vehicle outside the gym at 10:30 p.m. His supervisor dismissed his concerns when he called to report it. He entered the shower area and encountered the assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who said he was there with his “son.” Per protocol, Manigo filed a report to alert the school that someone was in the building after-hours. When it happened again the following week in the football stadium shower, he says Sandusky claimed, “Me and my son were lifting weights, we’ll be about 15 to 20 minutes.”
“I didn’t really pay attention at the young kids, because I was focused on getting my job done,” Manigo says. “So I never really got a chance to see their faces; I didn’t see them do anything inappropriate. I don’t know what they were doing; I didn’t know how long they had been there.” But he did know that he was annoyed. The assistant coach’s presence in the shower made it harder for him to do his job, and he couldn’t help but speculate aloud with other members of The Fleet as to what Sandusky was doing in the shower. He feels that not keeping his mouth shut was the reason for what he says happened next.
Arrested for Rape
Two weeks later, Manigo's supervisor called him in to have his picture taken, ostensibly for the school paper. What happened next changed his life. He was again called to his supervisor’s office and a police officer immediately arrested him for allegedly raping a woman in the neighboring town of Bellefonte. He had been picked out of a photo lineup that he maintains was faulty: the photo was the one that had been snapped at work, and he was the only man in the array who wasn’t in a prison jumpsuit, which showed he was on the streets at the time of the crime, and not locked up like the other men. The judge also thought something was fishy, and lowered his bail from $50,000 to $1000. He attempted to return to work the next day and was told he’d been fired because of the charge. Manigo said this was unusual, as a coworker had actually been convicted of vehicular homicide, but was let out of prison each day to work on the campus. He filed discrimination charges against the university.
While at home waiting for his court case (the original judge was on vacation), he was arrested again, this time for the attempted rape of an 80-year-old woman on a bus in State College. “I never rode a bus in State College. I got four cars. What would I be doing riding on a bus?” he remembers saying. The new judge raised his bail and put him back in prison, despite the fact that the woman had dropped the charges.
While in prison, a third charge of rape was leveled against him. He was transferred to another county, where the crime had allegedly taken place. Manigo says he had no idea where the charges were coming from. “Now I’m thinking, wait a minute here. Why is it all of a sudden these cases are coming up on me? What did I do? I told my attorney, there’s a cover up here. There’s something going on here. It all started when I started reporting about the incidents with Sandusky,” he says.
Now he was juggling two rape cases. After refusing a plea bargain, he went to trial for the last charge, which alleged that he had raped the daughter of a Penn State employee. He was found innocent of the crime. He wasn’t so lucky in his battle with the first charge. After the judge denied him the right to discovery and a change of attorney, he went before the court without representation and was sentenced to 15 years.