UPDATED: 11 a.m.
The independent investigation into the Penn State child sex abuse scandal has revealed that a number of senior administrators at the university knew about two separate instances of misconduct by Jerry Sandusky but failed to act properly on the charges.
Conducted by Louis Freeh, a federal judge and former FBI director, the investigation released Thursday morning [PDF] shows that four of the “most powerful people” at Penn State, including the late Joe Paterno, “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.” The report notes:
“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 Sandusky’s child victims.”
The report says Paterno, along with former President Graham Spanier, former Vice President of Business and Finance Gary Schultz, who had control of the Penn State police department, and former athletic director Tim Curley, “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity … repeatedly concealed facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.”
The figure whose reputation could suffer most from Freeh’s report is Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach. Paterno was removed from his position as head coach in November after it was alleged he knew of the abuse but failed to escalate the situation. Freeh’s report argues that Paterno did indeed know about the abuse, particularly in 2001, when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary happened upon Sandusky in the Penn State locker room showers with a young boy.
Paterno, who passed away in January after a battle with lung cancer, is still revered on Penn State’s campus, where students rioted after he was fired from his post in the wake of the Sandusky allegations.
A whopping 267-page document, the Freeh report is filled with details about the actions of Penn State administrators conducted during their eight-month investigation. In a press release unveiled Thursday morning, Freeh noted that his team, including lawyers, former prosecutors and former law enforcement officials, conducted 430 interviews and pored through 3.5 million emails and documents. It is the first independent look into the conduct of administrators when they were allegedly alerted of the abuse in both 1998 and 2001.
The report, even before its release, was criticized for its overly detailed focus on Joe Paterno’s action. In a Thursday morning press conference, when asked if Paterno was most at fault in failing to properly escalate the situation, Freeh refused to single out the individual most responsible. “We came to a reasonable conclusion that all four individuals, including Paterno, made a decision to actively conceal the information. I can’t parse between them as to degrees of responsibility.”
Freeh underscored his report’s finding that the cover-up occurred because of not just the fear of bad publicity, but “a motivation to avoid the consequences of bad publicity – including police investigations, donors being very upset, and the university community being very upset.”
The report notes that Paterno’s firing was handled poorly, a visceral reaction to the “crisis” faced by the board. Asked in Thursday’s press conference whether his firing was justified, Freeh bluntly answered “Yes.”
Before the report was released, the family of Joe Paterno released a statement defending Paterno and refuting his involvement in the scandal. The family’s letter, released to the Associated Press on Tuesday, says:
“Joe Paterno did not cover up for Jerry Sandusky. Joe Paterno did not know that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile. Joe Paterno did not act in any way to prevent a proper investigation of Jerry Sandusky. To claim otherwise is a distortion of the truth.”
Freeh was hired eight months ago by Penn State’s Board of Trustees to investigate the university’s response to the sexual abuse allegations. Freeh said Tuesday that no one but his team would be allowed to review the document before its release. Today marks the first time even the Board of Trustees has seen the report.
It faced an uncertain release date, but earlier this week Freeh revealed that the report would be released imminently – setting a Thursday launch date and unveiling TheFreehReportonPSU.com where it would be available to the public. The reason for the report, Freeh said in a statement Thursday morning, “we sought to clarify what occurred, including who knew what and when events happened, and to examine the University’s policies, procedures, compliance and internal controls” that led to a failure to report the charges.
In anticipation of the report, ESPN spoke to someone connected to Penn State’s trustees who said report would be “very broadly based” and “very harsh in a lot of areas.” “Everyone is going to get hammered,” the source told ESPN. Trustees were alerted that the report would be wide-reaching and potentially explosive. The Penn State Board of Trustees is convening today at the college’s Scranton-Worthington campus – their usually routine meeting is expected to receive exponentially greater attention as they determine how to proceed with the recommendations made by Freeh in the report.
Jerry Sandusky’s conviction last month on 45 out of 48 counts of criminal child sexual abuse may have affirmed his personal guilt, but the fate of the scandal hinges on others in the Penn State hierarchy who’ve been implicated. At least two Penn State administrators still face criminal charges of perjury and failure to report the abuse.
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Former athletic director Tim Curley and former VP for finance and business Gary Schultz have come under wide scrutiny for their alleged roles in the scandal. While Curley and Schultz have both denied any wrongdoing, recent email leaks have alleged that the administrators attempted to deflect the situation, allegations that Freeh’s report appears to support.
Former university president Graham Spanier was fired from his position in November just after the scandal broke. He hasn’t been charged with any crime, but Freeh’s report indicates that he, too, knew about the investigation into Sandusky. His attorneys sounded off to USA Today on Tuesday, before the report came to light:
“At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind, and he reiterated that during his interview with Louis Freeh and his colleagues.”
Jerry Sandusky, the ex-defensive coordinator for Penn State’s football team, was arrested on November 5, 2011 after the release of a grand jury presentment that alleged he had committed criminal sexual acts with children. The grand jury’s investigation, conducted over two years, contained sworn testimonies of eight young boys who alleged they had been abused by Sandusky.
In December, two more young boys came forward to say that Sandusky abused them. The ex-coach was originally charged with 52 counts of abuse, though during his June trial four of those counts were dropped. The trial was expected to take three weeks but was sent to the jury in less than two; a verdict was reached in less than 24 hours. Over the course of the eight days of testimony, they jury heard from eight out of the 10 young boys – now men – who said they were abused by Sandusky. Some told tales of showering with the coach after workouts, at which point he would abuse them. Many said they spent nights at Sandusky’s home, sleeping in the basement with Sandusky, when he would force sex on them. The abuse occurred over the course of 15 years.
Sandusky met the boys, who were between the ages of 10 and 13 when the abuse occurred, through his charity, The Second Mile, which he started in 1977. Now shuttered, the charity was launched to provide mentors and father figures to troubled kids.
Sandusky faces up to 400 years in jail if he receives the maximum sentence and is currently being held at the Centre County Jail pending his sentencing this fall. Despite his conviction, Sandusky and his lawyers have maintained his innocence and plan to appeal the conviction.