Abuse Inquiry Faults Paterno and Others at Penn State

By Ken Belson (New York Times)
July 12, 2012

The most senior officials at Penn State University failed for more than a decade to take any steps to protect the children victimized by Jerry Sandusky, the longtime lieutenant to head football coach Joe Paterno, according to an independent investigation of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university last fall.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims," said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Freeh's investigation — which took seven months and involved more than 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents — accuses Paterno, the university's former president and others of deliberately hiding facts about Sandusky's sexually predatory behavior over the years.

"The facts are the facts," Freeh said of Paterno. "He was an integral part of the act to conceal."

One new and central finding of the Freeh investigation is that Paterno, who died in January, knew as far back as 1998 that there were concerns Sandusky might be behaving inappropriately with children. It was then that the campus police investigated a claim by a mother that her son had been molested by Sandusky in a shower at Penn State.

Paterno, through his family, insisted after Sandusky's arrest that he never knew anything about the 1998 case. But Freeh's report, which was released Thursday, asserts that Paterno not only knew of the investigation, but followed it closely. Local prosecutors ultimately decided not to charge Sandusky, and Paterno did nothing.

Paterno failed to take any action, the investigation found, "even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno's."

The investigation also presented evidence that in the wake of the 1998 case, top university officials contemplated the possibility that Sandusky could be a serial pedophile. A second boy, according to notes taken by a university vice president, Gary Schultz, described actions similar to what had happened to the first boy, including Sandusky hugging him from behind in the shower. Schultz wrote in his notes: "Is this opening of Pandora's box? Other children?"

The next month, however, Schultz wrote an e-mail to the university president, Graham B. Spanier, and the athletic director, Tim Curley, in which he said, "I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us."

"In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity," the most powerful leaders of Penn State, Freeh's group said, "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large."

The investigation's findings doubtless will have significant ramifications — for Paterno's legacy, for the university's legal liability as it seeks to compensate Sandusky's victims, and perhaps for the wider world of major college athletics.

Already, though, the fallout from the Sandusky scandal has been extraordinary, its effects felt in everything from the shake-up in the most senior ranks of the university to the football program's ability to recruit the country's most talented high school prospects to a growing wariness among parents about the relationships their children have with their sports coaches.

Sandusky last month was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse, including rape and sodomy, by a jury in Bellefonte, Pa. The jury found he had assaulted young boys at his home, on the Penn State campus and at other locations over many years.

"I can't say that anything astonishes us anymore, but it's pretty astonishing," Michael J. Boni, a lawyer for one of Sandusky's victims, said of the investigation's findings. "I wouldn't be surprised if these leaders face new criminal charges for failure to report what they knew to the authorities."

For Paterno, one of the most damning implications of the Freeh investigation involves the university's handling of a 2001 report of Sandusky sexually attacking a 10-year-old boy in the football building's shower.

A graduate assistant had witnessed the assault, and reported in person to Paterno the next day. Paterno said he would figure out how to handle the alarming report, and inform his superiors. The Freeh investigation suggests that the university's senior administrators were prepared to formally report Sandusky to state authorities, but that Paterno persuaded them to do otherwise.

After Spanier and Curley decided to report Sandusky, the investigation asserted, "the only "known, intervening factor" was a conversation between Curley and Paterno.

It was then decided the "humane" thing to do would be to speak to Sandusky and warn him not to bring children on campus any longer.

"No such sentiments," the investigation said of Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley, "were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims."

Freeh, appearing at a news conference in Philadelphia, singled out the reaction in 2000 of a group of janitors after one of them said he witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in the locker room showers at the football building as indicative of the culture of the university. The janitors discussed what to do and the witness ultimately decided not to go to university officials, later saying he was afraid he would lose his job if he did so.

"They were afraid to take on the football program," Freeh said. "They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the president of the United States. If that's the culture on the bottom, then God help the culture at the top."

Paterno's family released a statement Thursday saying that it accepted criticism that Paterno should have done more, but argued that he was being judged with the benefit of hindsight.

"If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions," the statement said.

The family added: "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."

Still, the Freeh report said that by allowing Sandusky to remain a visible presence at Penn State after his retirement from coaching in 1999, he was essentially granted "license to bring boys to campus for 'grooming' as targets for his assaults."

On the Penn State campus in State College, Freeh's news conference was watched by some on televisions at the student union. The investigation's conclusions, especially about Paterno's involvement, were jarring for some.

"The conclusions could not be any more harsh," said Russell Frank, a journalism professor. "It's a very powerful indictment of the people in charge."

Freeh was named to head the investigation by the university's board of trustees shortly after Sandusky was arrested and Schultz and Curley were criminally charged for perjury in November 2011.

"No one is above scrutiny," Kenneth Frazier, a trustee, said at the time Freeh's probe was announced. "He has complete rein to follow any lead, to look into every corner of the university to get to the bottom of what happened."

Freeh's investigation did, indeed, find fault with the board, saying it failed in 1998 and 2001 to create an environment in which top university officials "felt accountable." It also failed to demand detailed information from Spanier about the Sandusky investigation and was not prepared when criminal charges were filed against Sandusky, Curley and Schultz last November, the Freeh report said. The board was also criticized for its handling of Paterno's dismissal, though Freeh said that the firing was justified.

The Paterno family, in an attempt to blunt the force of any critical findings by Freeh, issued a statement Tuesday that sought to undermine the fairness of the investigation. The statement said Paterno, before his death, had been eager to tell all he knew about the university's dealings with Sandusky and had admitted to having failed to do more to stop Sandusky. But it lamented what it called the improper and misleading disclosure in recent weeks of aspects of Freeh's findings.

On Thursday morning, before Freeh's findings were released, Paterno's son Jay appeared on the "Today" show. "This investigation is still one opinion, one piece of the puzzle," he said. "We've never been afraid of the truth."

Joe Paterno, in a letter that he had prepared but that was not published before his death, asserted that whatever the failings in the Sandusky affair — his or the university's — it did not constitute a "football scandal."

"Regardless of anyone's opinion of my actions or the actions of the handful of administration officials in this matter, the fact is nothing alleged is an indictment of football or evidence that the spectacular collections of accomplishments by dedicated student athletes should be in anyway tarnished," Paterno said in the letter.

Tim Rohan, from State College, Pa.; Zach Berman, from Philadelphia; and Richard Pérez-Peña contributed reporting.