Pennsylvania State University longtime football head coach Joe Paterno, fired President Graham Spanier and other officials failed to protect children from sexual abuse by former coach Jerry Sandusky, according to a report by investigator Louis Freeh.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said yesterday during a press conference concluding a seven-month probe. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
The abuse, for which Sandusky was convicted, could have been stopped in 1998, Freeh said after the report’s release. Freeh’s findings may be used to bolster litigation filed by Sandusky’s victims against the university, said Daniel Filler, a professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University.
“For lawyers and plaintiffs planning on suing Penn State, the Freeh report is literally a road map to the case,” Filler said. “The one thing the report leaves to the lawyers is the bald-faced accusations of deceit and cover-ups.”
Freeh, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, now heads the consulting company Freeh Group International Solutions LLC. He has been hired to conduct investigations at companies including MF Global Holdings Ltd.
Penn State Board Chairman Karen Peetz said trustees accept full responsibility for the failures that occurred at the university.
“We’re horrified. We’re saddened,” Peetz said yesterday at a press conference. “There are not enough superlatives to use.”
Trustees saw the report for the first time yesterday.
“We feel concerned and misled in the entire situation although we take full responsibility,” Peetz said. “Each of the individuals have let us down significantly.”
The Penn State report follows the January death of Penn State’s legendary football coach Paterno, who was fired in November along with Spanier over criticism they didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky’s abuse. Sandusky, 68, who spent 31 seasons as a defensive assistant under Paterno, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. His lawyer yesterday filed a notice of appeal seeking to challenge a protective order issued after Sandusky’s conviction.
Besides Paterno and Spanier, the report faults Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, university officials charged with lying to a grand jury about a 2001 allegation of sex abuse in a campus shower. Both men refused to cooperate with the Freeh investigation, citing the advice of their lawyers, according to the report.
“Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest,” Freeh said.
More than 430 interviews were conducted during the investigation, which resulted in a 267-page document.
Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz “repeatedly” concealed critical facts surrounding Sandusky’s abuse in an attempt to avoid “bad publicity,” according to Freeh’s report. None of the men took any responsible action after the February 2001 incident, and although they all knew of a 1998 incident, “the best they could muster to protect Sandusky’s victims was to ask Sandusky not to bring his ‘guests’ into the Penn State facilities,” according to the report.
The report makes more likely the possibility of criminal charges against Spanier, said Michael McCann, director of Vermont Law School’s Sports Law Institute. “Spanier, however, would likely argue that the report does not accurately reflect his conduct,” McCann said.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said yesterday in a statement, “Today’s release of the Freeh report will not hinder the continuing work of our statewide investigating grand jury nor will it impact ongoing criminal prosecutions.”
Lawyers for Spanier said in a statement that Freeh’s conclusion that their client had engaged in “active concealment” is “simply not supported by the facts.”
“Not only did Dr. Spanier never conceal anything from law enforcement authorities, but prior to 2011 he was never contacted” by them, his lawyers said. In 16 years on the job, he was never “told of any incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any nature,” they said.
Merck & Co. Chief Executive Officer Ken Frazier, the Penn State trustee who led the university’s special investigating committee, said the board placed a huge degree of trust in Spanier.
“In hindsight we would have done things differently,” Frazier said during a press conference on Penn State’s response to the report. “In retrospect I wish we had probed more.”
Freeh’s report faulted the “culture of reverence” surrounding Penn State’s football program for leading to the Sandusky scandal. The school’s athletic department in the past several decades was perceived as an “island” allowed to operate by its own rules, according to the report.
Freeh concluded that officials including Paterno knew in 1998 of a possible sexual assault by Sandusky on a young boy that was reported by his mother and they took no action to limit Sandusky’s access to campus shower rooms. Before May 1998, several football coaches and staff “regularly observed” Sandusky showering with young boys and never reported the behavior. The red flags involving Sandusky were numerous and Paterno and others ignored them, Freeh told reporters.
Penn State’s “tone” among its top leaders was completely wrong, making it difficult for those at the bottom of the university’s “pyramid of power” to report problems, Freeh said.
A janitor who witnessed a 2000 sexual assault by Sandusky on another boy was too afraid to report the incident, according to the report. The unidentified janitor, described as Janitor B in the report, told investigators that reporting the incident “would have been like going against the President of the U.S.”
“I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone,” the report cites the janitor as telling investigators. “Football runs this university.”
E-mails and notes suggest Paterno intervened in a plan to report the February 2001 incident witnessed by assistant football coach Mike McQueary, according to the report. The incident was never brought to the attention of the school’s board of trustees, according to the report.
“Paterno made perhaps the worst mistake of his life,” Freeh said during the press conference, noting that the former coach was an “integral part” of the concealment.
Paterno’s family said the former coach didn’t try to cover up Sandusky’s actions, while acknowledging that he could have gone further and pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs.
“If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions,” the family said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator.”
Paterno testified for seven minutes before a grand jury in January 2011 regarding what he knew about the 2001 incident involving Sandusky and a boy believed to be about 10 years old in the locker room showers of the Lasch Football Building.
McQueary, then a graduate assistant, has testified he told Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky assaulting the boy in a locker room shower. The details of what was said are at the heart of a related case against the university officials charged with perjury and failing to report the allegation to authorities.
McQueary’s contract with the school ended June 30, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said during the press conference. Erickson declined to comment on Curley’s continued employment at the university.
The conclusions reached in Freeh’s report are based on an incomplete record, Caroline Roberto and Tom Farrell, attorneys for Curley and Schultz, said in e-mailed statements.
“The result is a lopsided document that leaves the majority of the story untold,” Roberto said.
Freeh said the focus of the school’s response in 2001 was to treat Sandusky “humanely.”
“In critical written correspondence that we uncovered on March 20 of this year, we see evidence of their proposed plan of action in February 2001 that included reporting allegations about Sandusky to the authorities,” Freeh said at the press conference. “After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities.”
That failure “created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him,” Freeh said.
Freeh’s report is “absolutely devastating” to the school and its officials,’’ lawyers for three of Sandusky’s victims who testified at his trial said in a statement.
“They chose to protect themselves, Penn State’s brand and image and their football program instead of children,” attorneys Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici said in an e-mailed statement. “Although the Freeh report focuses on isolated incidents of abuse in 1998 and 2001, as the criminal convictions clearly establish, Jerry Sandusky was abusing boys before 1998.”
Freeh’s investigation covered the university’s protocols, culture and leadership going back as far as 1975. The team of investigators included former FBI agents and prosecutors, some with experience investigating cases of child sexual abuse. The group recommended five areas for changes, including abuse awareness training, administrative reforms and security arrangements for the athletic department.
Payments for the special investigation and crisis consultants hired to advise the school on the Sandusky fallout totaled about $7.6 million as of April 30, Penn State said on a website it created in the wake of the scandal.
Freeh, who was hired by a special committee of Penn State’s board of trustees, criticized his clients for failing to hold the university’s highest officials accountable for their actions.
The board may have been lulled into a sense of security as Spanier appeared to be successful in expanding and transforming the school, said Ronald Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.
“Boards can become complacent,” said Ehrenberg. “I think over time the board was not exerting its fiduciary duty.”
University board members must often walk a fine line, avoiding micromanaging university officials while guarding against a lack of crucial oversight, said Gary Olson, a former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Idaho State University.
E-mails uncovered by the Freeh investigation suggested that Penn State board members were kept in the dark about events leading to the scandal. Some board members found out about Sandusky’s arrest through local media, Freeh said yesterday.
“If there is lack of oversight, there is not a culture of accountability,” Olson said in a phone interview. “And that is what you’re looking for.”
Freeh called on the university to create a “comprehensive and stringent” compliance program, with board oversight through a compliance committee. The university has begun the search for a chief compliance officer and adopted policies requiring annual training on abuse and mandatory reporting for employees, Freeh said.
The Sandusky scandal is unlikely to cool recruiting at Penn State, said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Rivals ranked Penn State’s recruiting class No. 51 in the country in 2012 and they currently have the 2013 class ranked 15. Paterno hadn’t been involved in recruiting since 2008, Farrell said in a phone interview.
“This latest revelation isn’t a revelation. There was a cover-up,” Farrell said. “Kids still like Penn State; the atmosphere, the 100,000 fans, the facilities, tradition and TV. If the NCAA gets involved and hammers them with scholarship reductions, bowl bans, then you’ll see a change.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association said yesterday that it was reviewing the report. Penn State’s response to questions on compliance and ethics policies will determine whether it takes further action, the NCAA said in a statement.
“We expect Penn State’s continued cooperation in our examination of these issues,” the group said in the statement.