A small group of Penn State board members that includes longtime defenders of famed football coach Joe Paterno is challenging a 2012 university-commissioned investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
In a 109-page report, five current and two former alumni-elected trustees said their review of a trove of documents found that the school-funded private investigation was tainted by improper contacts with the university, the NCAA and state and federal law enforcement.
The investigation by a team led by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded high-ranking administrators and Paterno hushed up the Sandusky scandal to avoid bad publicity.
But the new report argues it is implausible Paterno and the others would have knowingly exposed children to harm by letting a pedophile roam freely on campus.
“The Freeh investigation yielded no compelling support for this absurd premise, and in fact yielded extensive information that disconfirmed this idea,” they wrote.
The report also examines Freeh’s statements about Paterno’s actions, the football culture at Penn State, and how state investigators interviewed and prosecuted Sandusky, who spent decades as Paterno’s top defensive assistant coach, and the three administrators.
Freeh, in a statement, called the newly public report “misguided, tilted, dishonest and biased.”
The alumni-elected trustees had not been able to persuade the full board to make their report public before it was posted online Monday by WJAC-TV in Johnstown.
Penn State’s board is a mix of appointees, state officials and those who are elected. The trustees who produced the rebuttal of the Freeh team’s report were elected by alumni and reflect a significant sentiment among Penn State alumni that the school’s leadership mishandled the response to Sandusky’s arrest and that Paterno was unfairly vilified.
In the 2011 grand jury testimony, Paterno recounted how he was told by an assistant coach in 2001 that he was disturbed by having just seen Sandusky and a boy in a team shower. The assistant, Mike McQueary, told Paterno the encounter involved “fondling” and was of “a sexual nature” but Paterno wasn’t quite sure what the act was, Paterno testified. Paterno died in January 2012 and was never charged.
Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse involving 10 victims in 2012, weeks before the Freeh report was issued, and is serving a decades-long prison sentence. A state appeals court last week upheld his conviction but ordered him to be resentenced.
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier was convicted in 2017 of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment and has a request pending before the state Supreme Court to review his case. A judge in 2017 threw out Spanier’s defamation lawsuit against Freeh.
Two of Spanier’s top lieutenants when he was president, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, pleaded guilty to child endangerment on the eve of trial and testified against him. Both served short terms in a county jail. Spanier is free on bail pending appeal, and his lawyer declined to comment on the new report.
The alumni trustees’ report took more than two years to produce and involved reviewing records used by the Freeh team under a contract with Penn State that paid them more than $8 million.
Former Penn State trustee Al Lord, who helped research and write the alumni trustees’ report, said Tuesday he has heard other trustees quietly criticize the Freeh report. He said he hopes the newly public document will change minds.
“It’s about the reputations of Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz,” Lord said. “They’re the ones who had the ultimate damage.”
Alumni-elected trustees listed as the report’s authors declined to comment or did not respond to messages.
Penn State President Eric Barron and board Chairman Mark Dambly issued a statement calling the report’s public disclosure reprehensible and an apparent violation of court-ordered confidentiality. They emphasized the report is the opinion of the trustees who wrote it, not the board as a whole or the university.
The scandal has cost Penn State more than a quarter-billion dollars, including payments to those who say Sandusky abused them, fines, legal fees and other expenses.