Freeh report on Penn State’s handling of Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse reveals ‘total disregard’ for victims
By Amy Shipley and Jenna Johnson,
Four of Penn State University’s most powerful leaders, including president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, covered up allegations of sexual abuse by an assistant coach because they were concerned about negative publicity, a team of investigators concluded in a report released Thursday following an eight-month probe.
Confronted with horrifying reports that Jerry Sandusky lured boys to the State College campus where he sexually abused them, Penn State’s leadership deferred to a “culture of reverence for the football program” and repeatedly “concealed Sandusky’s activities” from authorities, according to the investigation led by former FBI director 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 during a news conference Thursday.
The probe, which includes previously unknown e-mails, deals a crushing blow to the legacy of Paterno, the late coach who took pride in running an honorable program and whose reputation has been on the line since Sandusky’s arrest last November. It eviscerates Spanier, concluding he failed in his duties as president, and chastises the board of trustees at one of the nation’s largest public universities for being out of the loop as the scandal unfolded.
Particularly damaging to Paterno is the examination of the school’s handling of a 1998 criminal investigation into a woman’s accusations that Sandusky had inappropriately touched her 11-year-old son in the Penn State showers. In addition to Spanier and Paterno, athletics director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were also aware of the case, according to the report. Criminal charges were never brought in the case.
In his final public media interview and in grand jury testimony, Paterno disavowed knowledge of the incident, telling The Post’s Sally Jenkins, “You know, it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it.”
But in an e-mail captioned “Joe Paterno” and dated May 5, 1998, Curley wrote to Schultz, “I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks.”
In a May 13, 1998, e-mail captioned “Jerry,” Curley asked Schultz, “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” The report said “Coach” is believed to be Paterno.
At the time, Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley never “spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity,” Freeh said.
In June, Sandusky, 68, was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse and is awaiting sentencing. Eight young men testified during Sandusky’s trial that he had befriended them through his charity and sexually abused them in his home, in the Penn State locker room and on road trips with the football team.
Schultz and Curley face criminal charges of perjury and failing to report child abuse. Each maintains his innocence. A trial date has not been set. Spanier, who stepped down as president in the scandal’s wake in November, has been not charged criminally. Paterno died of lung cancer in January.
The report’s establishment of the four men’s knowledge of the 1998 episode provides context to the evaluation of their handling of an incident in 2001. At that time, former graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary informed Paterno that he had caught Sandusky showering with a boy in the locker room. The report said although McQueary reported Sandusky’s abuse on a Saturday morning, Paterno delayed passing along the information until Sunday because he did not “want to interfere” with people’s weekend plans.
At no time did any officials try to identify the boy, Freeh said. Spanier, Schultz and Curley considered reporting the matter to authorities but backed off the plan after one of them discussed it with Paterno. They concluded, in an e-mail exchange, it would be “more humane” to handle it internally.
Spanier, who served for 16 years as president, agreed with that course but worried about the officials’ culpability if Sandusky did not cease his abuse, writing in an e-mail, “The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”
Two attorneys who represent Spanier said in a statement Thursday that Freeh’s assertion that Spanier actively concealed information “is simply not supported by the facts or by the report itself.” An attorney representing Curley said the report is a “lopsided document that leaves the majority of the story untold” because several key people were not interviewed. Investigators did not interview Curley or Schultz, who declined requests on the advice of their counsel, or Paterno, who died before he could be interviewed.
Paterno’s family defended his actions in a statement Thursday, saying “Joe Paterno wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes and he regretted them. He is still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.”
In a draft of a letter that surfaced Wednesday and was verified as genuine by Paterno’s family, Paterno wrote to former players, “This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”
The NCAA is investigating Penn State for a lack of institutional control and unethical conduct; officials said Thursday they would consider the material in the Freeh report. The Department of Education is also investigating whether Penn State violated a federal law mandating the reporting of crimes committed on campus.
Attorneys representing the victims in the case also are expected to digest the report as they prepare civil lawsuits.
The Penn State Board of Trustees had been scheduled to meet in Scranton, Pa., on Thursday and spent much of the day reviewing the report and drafting a response. The board paid for the investigation and report, which also made 120 recommendations in eight different areas.
The board “accepts full responsibility for the failures that occurred,” chairwoman Karen B. Peetz said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. The greatest failure, she said, is that board members did not push for more information when they were briefed at a May 2011 meeting on the grand jury investigation into Sandusky.
“To put it simply, we did not force the issue,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, a board member who chaired an investigations task force. “We are accountable for what’s happened here.”
The 32-member board has had some turnover since November, and Peetz said that no members plan to resign.
The report describes an incident in which a janitor told co-workers that he had seen Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the showers in 2000. Despite his shock at what he had seen, the janitor did not report the incident. Another janitor told investigators such a move “would have been like going against the President of the United States. . . .
“Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone. . . . Football runs this university.”
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