Freeh report faults Paterno, Spanier, Penn State leaders for failing to protect children
Penn State University administrators allowed a culture of cover-up, feared taking on the football program and failed to put safety first, investigators say.
“The most saddening finding by the special investigative counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of (Jerry) Sandusky's child victims,” investigators for former FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote in their much-anticipated report into how the university handled the child-sex scandal.
The report released on Thursday found four leaders in particular — the late football coach Joe Paterno, former President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz — failed for more than a decade to protect children from Sandusky, the assistant football coach whom a jury convicted last month of abusing 10 boys over 15 years, often in Penn State facilities.
Freeh also criticized university trustees, saying they failed to control the institution and ask adequate questions once they learned of a state investigation into Sandusky.
Leaders appeared to fear “bad publicity,” which in effect meant full disclosure and openness, Freeh said. He pointed to a culture of fear within the institution, underscoring statements by locker-room janitors who said they feared reporting Sandusky's behavior more than a decade ago.
“They said, ‘We can't report this because we'll get fired,' ” Freeh said. “They knew who Sandusky was. ... They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the president of the United States.
“If that's the culture at the bottom, then God help the culture at the top.”
Spanier, who remains a tenured professor at Penn State, denied he engaged in any “active concealment.”
“Not only did Dr. Spanier never conceal anything from law enforcement authorities, but prior to 2011, he was never contacted by law enforcement officials, or any other officials, about any criminal activities now attributed to Sandusky,” his lawyers wrote. “And as he told Judge Freeh himself last Friday and has steadfastly maintained, at no time in his 16 years as president of Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of any incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any nature.”
Relatives of Paterno, who was ousted by trustees in November and died in January, released a six-paragraph statement saying they were reviewing the Freeh report.
“The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept,” their statement read. “The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events. Sandusky was a great deceiver.”
Other reaction came swiftly from Nike Inc., whose founder, Phil Knight, defended Paterno at a memorial service last year. The company CEO said he decided to change the name of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
“It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes,” said CEO Mark Parker. Knight recast his own tone on Paterno, saying, “It appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences.”
Penn State's trustees said they accept responsibility for failures of accountability but that no members of the board would step down in the wake of Freeh's report.
“Let me be perfectly clear: An event like this can never happen again” at Penn State, said trustee Kenneth Frazier, who chaired an investigative task force for the board.
Leaders failed to put the welfare of children first, he said, specifically naming Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz.
The “61 years of excellence that Joe (Paterno) gave to the university is now marred,” said board Chairwoman Karen Peetz.
Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges of perjury and failure to report. Curley's attorney, Caroline Roberto, called the report “lopsided,” saying the Freeh group lacked subpoena power and didn't interview key witnesses.
Schultz attorney Tom Farrell said a trial will show “there were no efforts between and among Messrs. Schultz, Curley, Paterno and Spanier to conceal Mr. Sandusky's behavior.”
No attempt to investigate
Sandusky, 68, awaits sentencing. A Centre County jury found him guilty on 45 of 48 counts last month.
Perhaps the most notorious incident was reported in early 2001, when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told university leaders he saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in a campus shower. Listed only as “Victim 2,” he has not been identified by investigators.
At the university, there was no “attempt to investigate, to identify ‘Victim 2' or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its recurrence on university property,” the Freeh report states.
Freeh found Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz concealed Sandusky's activities not only from the community and authorities, but also from the university board.
The trustees, however, “did not create an atmosphere where the president and senior officers felt they were accountable to the board,” Freeh said in a Philadelphia news conference. Trustees reported that their meetings felt scripted or that they were “rubber-stamping” decisions by Spanier and a few select board members, according to the report.
More broadly, Freeh said Penn State failed to implement provisions of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires federally supported universities to report serious crimes.
“Indeed, on the day Sandusky was arrested (in November), Penn State's Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form,” he said.
The findings are among dozens in the 267-page report ordered by university trustees and priced at $6.5 million.
In conjunction with the report, Freeh released 119 recommendations for Penn State. One is “for Penn State itself to study, evaluate and make any needed additional changes,” he said.
“The goal should be to create a more open and compliant culture which protects children and not adults who abuse them,” Freeh said. He said the university has made strides toward Clery Act compliance and begun a search for a qualified chief compliance officer.
Penn State needs a stringent compliance program, including board oversight through a committee, Freeh said.
Peetz said Penn State has begun to bolster accountability in risk management, audits, compliance, governance and human resources. Trustees will vote on Friday on several new governance issues.
Among the report's other highlights:
• Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley allowed Sandusky to retire in 1999 as a member of the Penn State football legacy, with ways “to continue to work with young people through Penn State.” That granted Sandusky license to bring boys into campus facilities for grooming as targets for his assaults, according to the report. Sandusky retained unlimited access to university facilities until November 2011.
• Schultz learned in 1998 of an on-campus shower incident involving Sandusky and an 11-year-old, then told Spanier and Curley. Schultz's confidential notes from May 4, 1998, read in part: “Behavior — at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties” and “At min — Poor Judgment.” Schultz also noted: “Is this opening of pandora's box?” and “Other children?”
• A culture of reverence for the football program is ingrained at all levels of the campus community. “There is an over-emphasis on ‘the Penn State way' as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to seeking out perspectives and an excessive focus on athletics” that can inhibit the university's standing as a progressive institution, the report reads.
• Curley met in March 2001 with the executive director of The Second Mile, the youth-service charity Sandusky founded in the late 1970s. Curley told the nonprofit executive of a shower incident on campus the previous month but said he had concluded, after speaking with Sandusky, that nothing inappropriate happened. Curley advised Sandusky not to bring children to Penn State facilities because of the potential for “bad publicity,” according to the report.
$100 million in liability
Freeh's firm, hired by trustees in November, interviewed more than 430 people, including current and former employees, trustees, coaches and other residents.
Trustees vowed to give the group full independence and investigators kept their findings from all parties — including Penn State leaders — until this week, according to the Freeh group.
Private attorneys representing Sandusky's victims said they would look to the report for evidence that could support civil claims against Penn State. The university will probably have to pay out more than $100 million to resolve such claims out of court, Chicago securities attorney Andrew Stoltmann said.
“The risks for Penn State in going through discovery and leaving a decision in the hands of a jury could be cataclysmic to the university,” Stoltmann said.
Officials with the state Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office are expected to have a keen interest in the report. Those agencies are running separate investigations involving Sandusky and Penn State.
The Freeh group gave the Attorney General's Office email messages among Spanier, Curley and Schultz. Freeh pledged to share with prosecutors any evidence relevant to their work.
“The Freeh Report should prove helpful to decision-makers, the Penn State community and the public at large in understanding how this disturbing situation developed, as well as how to prevent it from being repeated in the future,” state Attorney General Linda Kelly said. She said the report “will not hinder the continuing work of our statewide investigating grand jury (or) ongoing criminal prosecutions.”
Adam Smeltz and Debra Erdley are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Erdley can be reached at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com. Staff writers Scott Brown and Brad Bumsted and The Associated Press contributed to this report.