'Closed culture' of Penn State contributed to scandal, Freeh report finds
Penn State students watch the Freeh report press conference on a television in the HUB-Robeson Center on the campus of Penn State University.
An excerpt from the Freeh Group's report is shown in Philadelphia.
Members of the Penn State board of trustees, leave the Radisson Hotel in Scranton, after the Freeh report was released today.
A Penn State University student walks in front of Old Main on campus today.
The Freeh report includes notes and emails by several top Penn State officials. This is an excerpt from a note by Gary Schultz in 1998: "Is this opening of Pandora's box? Other children?"
Former FBI director Louis Freeh speaks about the Freeh Report during a news conference today in Philadelphia.
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A special investigator today condemned Penn State University leadership for what he called "the total disregard for the safety and welfare" of children who were sexually abused by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," investigator Louis Freeh said today in prepared remarks.
In his 267-page report, compiled after 430 interviews and the review of 3.5 million emails and other documents, he named names.
"Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," according to the report. "These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.
"Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child's identity, of what (graduate assistant Mike) McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February, 9, 2001," according to the report.
Mr. Paterno also testified to the grand jury that he "ordinarily would have called people right away, (after hearing McQueary's report) but it was a Saturday morning and I didn't want to interfere with their weekends."
Answering questions after making his speech, Mr. Freeh said Mr. Paterno in particular failed to step in.
"The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building," Mr. Freeh said. "Mr. Paterno had his office in the Lasch Building, steps away from Mr. Sandusky. Mr. Sandusky was one of his chief defense coaches. Again, we don't have the benefit of having spoken to Mr. Paterno as I believe he had intended to do. However, we have a statement that he made with respect to the conversation when (Mike) McQueary first advised him of what he had seen in the shower. Mr. Paterno's quote was, 'You did what you had to do. Now it's up to me to decide what we want to do.' I think that's a very telling and very critical statement, not on a hearsay basis, but (from) Mr. Paterno himself."
A campus committee dominated by Penn State trustees retained Mr. Freeh, a former FBI director and a former federal judge, in November, promising a comprehensive and unbiased investigation of the sex abuse scandal.
"No one is above scrutiny," the committee's chairman, Penn State trustee and Merck chief executive officer Kenneth Frazier, said at the time.
Mr. Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. The scandal led to the ouster of Mr. Spanier and Mr. Paterno, who died in January of complications from lung cancer.
It also resulted in charges against Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley, who are accused of failing to properly report suspected child abuse and lying to a grand jury.
"The release of our report today marks the beginning of a process for Penn State, and not the end. It is critical that Old Main, the Board and the Penn State community never forget these failures and commit themselves to strengthening an open, compliant and victim sensitive environment -- where everyone has the duty to 'blow the whistle' on anyone who breaks this trust, no matter how powerful or prominent they may appear to be," Mr. Freeh said.
He said after delivering his remarks that determinations about criminal liability would have to come from others.
"Those are legal conclusions I'm not prepared to make," Mr. Freeh said. "But the evidence clearly shows in our view an active agreement to conceal, and I think it would be up to a grand jury and law enforcement officers to make decisions whether (these are elements) of criminal offenses."
According to the Freeh report, before May 1998, several staff members and football coaches "regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys in the Lasch Building ... none of the individuals interviewed notified their superiors of this behavior."
After the mother of a young boy reported a possible sexual assault by Sandusky on May 3, 1998, university police and the state Department of Public Welfare investigated. Two days later, Mr. Schultz wrote in his notes: "Is this the opening of pandora's box? Other children?"
On June 9, 1998, Mr. Schultz sent an email to Mr. Spanier and Mr. Curley, saying "I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us."
No charges were filed in connection with that incident, and none of the Penn State hierarchy spoke to Mr. Sandusky about his conduct. Nor did they take action to limit his access to Penn State facilities "or took any measures to protect children on their campuses," the report said.
A detective who interviewed Mr. Sandusky at the time recalled telling him not to shower with children and that he replied that he wouldn't.
Noting that Mr. Sandusky was convicted of several assaults that occurred after 1998, the report said that some of the assaults "might have been prevented had Sandusky been prohibited from bringing minors to University facilities and University football bowl games."
The report devotes seven pages to the oft-asked question of whether Sandusky was forced into retirement in June 1999 after the child sexual abuse investigation by campus police just over a year earlier, but concludes that the special counsel "found no evidence to indicate that Sandusky's retirement was related to the police investigation of him in 1998."
The report also looks beyond the scandal that centers on Mr. Sandusky.
It notes that while certain aspects, such as the collegiality and high standards of educational excellence and research, are laudable, "there is an over-emphasis on 'The Penn State Way' as an approach to decision making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an extensive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the University's reputation as a progressive institution."
The athletic department in particular was "permitted to become a closed culture" for the past several decades, the report said.
"There was little personnel turnover or hiring from outside the University and strong internal loyalty," according to the report. "The football program, in particular, opted out of most of the University's Clery Act, sexual abuse awareness and summer camp procedures training. The Athletic Department was perceived by many in the Penn State community as 'an island' where staff members lived by their own rules."
The report recommends the organizational structure of the athletic department be revised to clearly define lines of authority, and that national searches be conducted when key positions, such as those for head coach and associate athletic directors and above, are filled in the future.
While Penn State had two main policies designed to protect children using university facilities and participating in university-supported programs, these policies were inadequate, according to the report, which noted that corrective efforts are now under way.
The policies -- one on background checks and another that established rules for the protection of minors in university-sponsored programs -- were inconsistently applied.
University staff members reported that they were confused about what the background check entailed and who was subject to the process, according to the report.
One staff member involved with youth programs described the background check process as "a sieve."
A report prepared in May 2010 showed that 234 of 735 coaches paid to work at the summer sports camps in 2009 did not have a background check completed before they started work. In 2010, at least five coaches or counselors with criminal records were allowed to work at University Park summer youth programs, according to the Freeh report.
One person who registered for a coaching position at a University Park football camp in 2010 indicated in his self-disclosure statement that he had no criminal history and was cleared to participate. But a background check initiated a day later and completed the following day, after he stayed overnight in a Penn State residence hall with minors, revealed that he had a criminal record for child endangerment, according to the Freeh report.
"While the identified deficiencies historically may not have had a direct impact on Sandusky's crimes, the issues are serious and reflect that the University has not sufficiently focused on the protection of children in the past," the report said.
Thousands of children visit the campus each year, including 20,000 children now attending summer sports camps offered by the Intercollegiate Athletic department, according to the report.
In their initial public response to Mr. Freeh's report, the university's leadership and Board of Trustees were measured.
"We want to ensure we are giving the report careful scrutiny and consideration before making any announcements or recommendations," according to a written statement released this morning. "We are convening an internal team comprising the Board of Trustees, University administration and our legal counsel to begin analyzing the report and digesting Judge Freeh's findings."
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon in Scranton, Mr. Frazier said the board had taken a hard look at its own actions.
"In retrospect, we were, frankly, not appropriately pushing to get deeper answers," he said. "I don't know that there were different questions, so much as asking again and again, is there nothing more that we haven't been told?"
"I don't think it was a question of asking the wrong questions -- I think it was a reticence about sharing the information. It's not a question of, if we had asked a magic question, these folks would have said, 'OK, we're not going to conceal what's going on.'"
The NCAA's vice president of communications, Bob Williams, said his organization would take time to read through the entire report.
"As President Emmert wrote in his November 17th letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson and reiterated this week, the university has four key questions, concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies, to which it now needs to respond," Mr. Williams wrote in a statement. "Penn State's response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action. We expect Penn State's continued cooperation in our examination of these issues."
Mr. Paterno's family released its own statement, portraying its patriarch as fallible and human.
"One great risk in this situation is a replaying of events from the last 15 years or so in a way that makes it look obvious what everyone must have known and should have done," Mr. Paterno's family said in the statement. "The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. 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. He fooled everyone -- law enforcement, his family, coaches, players, neighbors, University officials, and everyone at Second Mile.
"Joe Paterno wasn't perfect," his family continued. "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."
Two attorneys for Mr. Spanier, Timothy K. Lewis and Peter F. Vaira, released a statement this afternoon saying the former university president did not engage in "active concealment," as the Freeh report alleges.
"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. 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."
In his prepared remarks, Mr. Freeh was far more forceful. He again singled out Mr. Spanier, Mr. Schultz, Mr. Curley and Mr. Paterno.
"Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims," Mr. Freeh said in his prepared remarks.
"The evidence shows that these four men also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower. Again, they showed no concern about that victim. ....
"At the very least, Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity," he said.
"Although we found no evidence that the Penn State Board of Trustees was aware of the allegations regarding Sandusky in 1998 and 2001, that does not shield the Board from criticism. In this matter, the Board -- despite its duties of care and oversight of the University and its Officers -- failed to create an environment which held the University's most senior leaders accountable to it," he said.
According to the report, the university failed to stop Mr. Sandusky's access to football facilities even though administrators were made aware of criminal investigations of Sandusky as early as 1998.
Mr. Sandusky had access to season tickets in Beaver Stadium's exclusive Nittany Lion Club through last season.
According to the report, Mr. Curley deleted Mr. Sandusky's name from the annual invitation list before last season. When Mr. Sandusky's wife called the Nittany Lion club to inquire about the family's season tickets, Mr. Curley reversed his previous decision and approved season tickets for Mr. Sandusky.
Several people told investigators that they were under the impression Mr. Sandusky had been cleared of allegations in the newspaper reports because of his continued attendance at games.
The report also cited the university's willingness to allow Mr. Sandusky to operate football camps at branch campuses without proper paperwork filed. The two parties had only a "handshake" agreement in place for the camps Mr. Sandusky ran from 2000-08.
Several people interviewed by investigators said Mr. Sandusky was treated "like a god" by some university employees. He did not have to go through the usual administrative procedures because he was a well-respected employee for more than 30 years, according to the report.
The report also makes note of the university's continued business relationship with Mr. Sandusky after his 1999 retirement.
According to university accounting records, Penn State made 71 separate payments to Mr. Sandusky for travel, meals, lodging, speaking engagements, camps and other activities from 2000-08.
On May 14, 2010, Mr. Curley wrote a letter of recommendation for Mr. Sandusky for the American Football Coaches Association Outstanding Achievement Award.
And in spring 2011, university general counsel Cynthia Baldwin said the university could not end Mr. Sandusky's access to the Lasch Building "because of his emeritus status and the fact that he had not been convicted of a crime," according to the report.
As for the trustees, the report stated the board did not "make reasonable inquiry" of Mr. Spanier and Ms. Baldwin from the time grand jury appearances and the Sandusky investigation were reported in a newspaper on March 31, 2011 until Nov. 4, 2011.
Mr. Spanier and Ms. Baldwin didn't brief the board on "potential risk to the university" until a May 2011 board meeting and only after a trustee who read a newspaper story asked about it, according to the report.
At that meeting, Mr. Spanier and Ms. Baldwin "minimized its seriousness by not fully describing the nature of the allegations or raising the issue of possible negative impact to the university," according to the report.
In addition, "The board did not take steps that might have protected the university, such as conducting an internal investigation, engaging experienced criminal counsel or preparing for the possibility that the results of the grand jury investigation could have a negative impact on the university," according to the report.
Both Mr. Spanier and Ms. Baldwin were against an independent investigation, with Ms. Baldwin saying if "we do this, we will never get rid of this [outside investigative] group in some shape or form. The board will then think that they should have such a group," according to the report.
The Freeh report notes, however, that one trustee, which it leaves unidentified, emailed Mr. Spanier the day after the news report was published asking, "[w]hat is the story on allegations against Jerry Sandusky that required testimony by Joe Paterno and Tim Curley, and I heard, also Garry [sic] Schultz? Is this something the board should know a [sic] be briefed on or what?"
In an email to the trustee and copied to Ms. Baldwin and then board chairman Steve Garban, Mr. Spanier wrote, "I believe that grand jury matters are by law secret, and I'm not sure what one is permitted to say, if anything."
He said he would check with Ms. Baldwin, who the next day emailed Mr. Spanier that those who testify are not held to secrecy and offered to put something together for the board.
On April 13, 2011, the trustee still wanted information and sent another email to Mr. Spanier, asking, "[w]hat is the outcome on this? I frankly think that, despite the grand jury secrecy, when high ranking people at the university are appearing before a grand jury, the university should communicate something about this to its board of trustees."
Mr. Spanier answered the trustee that day, according to the report, saying he learned not long before "through media reports that the grand jury has been investigating for two years and has not yet brought charges. They continue their investigation. I'm not sure it is entirely our place to speak about this when we are only on the periphery of this."
He said Ms. Baldwin would report at the next board meeting and then emailed Ms. Baldwin that the trustee "desires near total transparency. He will be uncomfortable and feel put off until he gets a report."
Ms. Baldwin briefed the board on in a May 2011 session she recalled as lasting 20 minutes and which several trustees described as three to five minutes, what the report called a "'oh, by the way' presentation, at the end of the day."
After Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley were criminally charged, the report noted Mr. Spanier "continued to downplay the serious harm that could result to Penn State's reputation" and gave his "unconditional support" for the pair.
"The board was unprepared to handle the crisis that occurred when Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were charged," according to the report. "This contributed significantly to its poor handling of the firing of Paterno, and the subsequent severe reaction by the Penn State community and the public to the board's oversight of the university and Paterno's firing."
First Published July 12, 2012 9:02 am