Inaction by some of Penn State’s most powerful leaders permitted Jerry Sandusky to use the university’s athletic facilities to lure boys for “grooming” as victims of his sexual abuse, a report released today said.
Back in 1999, Joe Paterno, then President Graham Spanier and several other school officials decided to allow Sandusky to retire as a “valued member” of the staff and maintain full access to university facilities, even after several incidents of sexual abuse had been reported.
Former FBI director and federal Judge Louis Freeh says the most “saddening and sobering” finding from his group’s report is Penn State senior leaders’ “total disregard” for the safety and welfare of the ex-coach’s child victims.
He said more “red flags than you can count” about Sandusky were available to university officials in examining Sandusky’s behavior.
Freeh said the university’s board failed in its oversight of the athletic department, noting most board members first learned of the allegations against Sandusky from the news reports when the story broke.
The “most powerful men at Penn State failed” to take any steps for 14 years, he said. He named Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, ex-President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and former senior vice president Gary Schultz.
In explaining how the abuse went on for so long, Freeh faulted a culture at Penn State – that was focused on protecting the University, not children.
“From 1998-2011 Penn State’s tone at the top for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong as shown by the inaction and concealment on the part of its most senior leaders,” said Freeh.
The investigation concluded that the senior officials “concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse” because they were worried about bad publicity.
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts. The scandal led to the ouster of Paterno and Spanier.
The report includes a series of emails among school administrators following two accusations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001. In one of the emails, one official worries about becoming “vulnerable” if they fail to report an allegation.
After athletic director Tim Curley opted not to report Sandusky for an alleged assault of a boy in the football locker room showers in 2001, school vice president Gary Schultz called the decision to try and get Sandusky to seek professional help “humane.” But he also noted that, “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.”
The emails also point to coach Paterno being aware of a 1998 case in which Sandusky was confronted about showering with another boy.
Sandusky, a long-time assistant football coach, was convicted last month on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing children, sometimes on the premises of the Penn State athletic program.
Revelation of Sandusky’s crimes led to the firing last November of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the resignation of Penn State President Graham Spanier.
Freeh was unsparing in his criticism of Paterno, who died last year after being fired over the Sandusky case.
The report zeroes on the actions of Paterno and Spanier, along with other university officials, in February 2001. This was when a Penn State graduate assistant reported to Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky possibly abusing a young boy in the Penn State locker room.
Noting that as adult educators, Penn State officials had a clear mandate under state law to report suspected child abuse to legal authorities, Freeh said they “changed the plan and decided not to make a report.” He said the reasons seemed to be a desire to avoid embarrassment for the university, and to be “humane” to Sandusky.
“No such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims,” Freeh said.
The failure to protect the victim of this February 2001 incident exposed “other unsuspecting young boys” to abuse by Sandusky, Freeh said. And the decision to alert Sandusky about the report that he’d been seen “horsing around” in the showers with the February 2001 victim potentially exposed that boy to “additional harm,” Freeh said.
The report is also searingly critical of Spanier, who it said joined Paterno in showing “callous and shocking disregard for child victims.” Also coming in for the same sharp words were former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
Freeh released his report to the public at 9 Thursday morning; Penn State’s Board of Trustees, which asked Freeh to conduct this probe, got no advance look.
The report also knocks the trustees for:
Having no alert system to ensure disclosure “of major risks to the University.”
Failure to dig deeper or assess under-reporting by Spanier after release of the grand jury report on Sandusky last year.
Relying far too much on Spanier’s ability to handle crises.
Freeh said his team conducted 430 interviews and reviewed 3.5 million emails and other documents as part of the investigation.
Freeh said his heart is with the children – now young men – who were victimized by Sandusky.