PHILADELPHIA (ESPN.com) — Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other youngsters, according to a scathing internal report issued Thursday on the scandal.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” said Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI who was hired by university trustees to look into what has become one of sports’ biggest scandals. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
After an eight-month inquiry, Freeh’s firm produced a 267-page report that concluded that Hall of Fame coach Paterno, President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse,” the report said.
Paterno “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal,” Freeh said at a news conference.
Asked directly if Paterno’s firing last fall was justified, Freeh answered, “Yes.”
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts for abusing 10 boys. He faces a minimum of 60 years in prison.
The scandal led to the ouster of Paterno and Spanier. Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges accusing them of lying to a grand jury and failing to report abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
Asked whether the officials’ actions amounted to a crime such as conspiracy or obstruction, Freeh said that would be up to a grand jury.
School leaders “empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access” to campus and his affiliation with the football program, the report said. The access, the report states, “provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims.”
Sexual abuse might have been prevented if university officials had banned Sandusky from bringing children onto campus after a 1998 inquiry, the report said. Despite their knowledge of the police probe into Sandusky showering with a boy in a football locker room, Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz took no action to limit his access to campus, the report said.
The May 1998 complaint by a woman whose son came home with wet hair after showering with Sandusky didn’t result in charges at the time. The report says Schultz was worried the matter could be opening “Pandora’s box.”
Then, in 2001, after a member of Paterno’s staff saw Sandusky in a campus shower with a boy, officials did bar him from bringing children to campus but decided not to report him to child welfare authorities.
“There’s more red flags here than you could count over a long period of time,” Freeh said.
In a statement, Paterno’s family said the longtime coach made mistakes that he acknowledged but “never interfered with any investigation” and was fooled by Sandusky.
“We appreciate the effort that was put into this investigation,” the family said. “The issue we have with some of the conclusions is that they represent a judgment on motives and intentions and we think this is impossible. We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator. Moreover, Joe Paterno never interfered with any investigation. He immediately and accurately reported the incident he was told about in 2001.
“It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further. He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs. We accept this criticism. At the same time, Joe Paterno and everyone else knew that Sandusky had been repeatedly investigated by authorities who approved his multiple adoptions and foster children. Joe Paterno mistakenly believed that investigators, law enforcement officials, University leaders and others would properly and fully investigate any issue and proceed as the facts dictated.
“This didn’t happen and everyone shares the responsibility.”
Defense lawyer Caroline Roberto, who represents Curley, was reading the report and had no immediate comment, according to a spokeswoman. Messages were left for lawyers for Spanier and Schultz.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, a critic of the board’s dismissal of Paterno in November, said the board was still formulating a response.
Freeh also said Sandusky’s conduct was in part a result of the school’s lack of transparency, which stemmed from a “failure of governance” on the part of officials and the board of trustees. He said the collective inaction and mindset at the top of the university trickled all the way down to a school janitor who was afraid for his job and opted to not report seeing sex abuse in a school locker room in 2000.
The report also singled out the revered Penn State football program — one built on the motto “success with honor” — for criticism. It says Paterno and university leaders allowed Sandusky to retire in 1999, “not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future ‘visibility’ at Penn State,” allowing him to groom victims.
Investigators, however, found no evidence linking Sandusky’s $168,000 retirement package in 1999 to the ’98 police investigation. Freeh called the payout unprecedented but said there was no evidence it was an attempt to buy Sandusky’s silence.
Sandusky’s trial last month included gut-wrenching testimony from eight young men who said he abused them as boys, sometimes on campus, and included testimony that showed he used his prestige as a university celebrity to manipulate the children.
Key Points of Freeh Report
• Paterno and others showed “callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”
• Evidence shows Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley did know of 1998 investigation and Paterno “failed to take any action.”
• PSU let Sandusky retire in 1999 “not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy,” allowing him to groom victims.
• PSU “concealed critical facts … to avoid consequences of bad publicity.”
• Paterno “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal” and his firing was justified.
• PSU did not alert authorities to 2001 assault. Intervening factor in not reporting was conversation between Curley, Paterno.
• PSU failed to adhere to federal law requiring reporting crimes such as the ones Sandusky committed.
By contrast, Freeh’s team focused on Penn State and what its employees did — or did not do — to protect children.
More than 400 current or former school employees were interviewed since November, including nearly everyone associated with the football program under Paterno. The Hall of Fame coach died of lung cancer in January at age 85, without telling Freeh’s team his account of what happened.
Some of the report’s most damning evidence against Paterno consists of handwritten notes and emails that portray him as being involved with a decision by the school officials not to tell child welfare authorities about the 2001 encounter.
Spanier, Schultz and Curley drew up a plan that called for reporting Sandusky to the state Department of Child Welfare. But Curley later said in an email that he changed his mind about the plan “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe.”
Spanier concurred but noted “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 show Paterno closely followed the 1998 allegation.
Michael Boni, a lawyer for a boy known as Victim 1, called the report a “serious indictment against Penn State’s culture and environment of protecting at all costs the football program.”
He added: “Nothing is shocking anymore in this case … but the fact that the highest levels of the school made a conscious decision to cover up what Sandusky had done, it comes close. It is shocking.”
In State College, Pa., on Thursday morning, some students and alumni gathered at the Penn State student center to watch the release of the Freeh report on live television, Philly.com reported.
However, according to the website, just as the report was to be unveiled at 9 a.m., all the televisions went blank, then switched to a public access channel showing an interview about the state budget. Attempts to change it back initially failed.
Mary Krupa, an 18-year-old Penn State freshman who grew up in State College, said the conclusion that the school’s highest officials were derelict in protecting children didn’t shake her love of the town or the school.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.” – Louis Freeh
“The actions of five or six people don’t reflect on the hundreds of thousands” of students and faculty who make up the Penn State community, she said while walking through the student union building on campus.
The Freeh report had an impact far away from State College, as well.
Nike has decided to take Paterno’s name off its child development center at company headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
Nike Inc. chairman Phil Knight, who defended Paterno during a speech at the late coach’s memorial service in January, issued a statement Thursday.
“Throughout Joe Paterno’s career, he strived to put young athletes in a position to succeed and win in sport but most importantly in life,” Knight said. “Joe influenced thousands of young men to become better leaders, fathers and husbands.
“According to the investigation, it appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day. My love for Joe and his family remains.”
With the report now complete, the NCAA said Penn State now must address four key questions concerning “institutional control and ethics policies,” as outlined in a letter sent to the school last fall.
“Penn State’s response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action,” said Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications. “We expect Penn State’s continued cooperation in our examination of these issues.”
Michael Buckner, an attorney who specializes in NCAA cases, told ESPN.com’s Joe Schad that the findings in the Freeh report don’t necessarily violate NCAA rules.
“It documented a lack of institutional control (as it is generally defined and understood) at Penn State, but not the lack of control as defined in the NCAA Manual or articulated by the Committee on Infractions,” Buckner said. “Naturally, (NCAA president Mark) Emmert could disregard this fact and pursue an unchartered and unsupported course of action. However, I would let the legal system (criminal and civil) do its job.”
The U.S. Department of Education is examining whether the school violated the Clery Act, which requires reporting of certain crimes on campus, including ones of a sexual nature. The report said Penn State’s “awareness and interest” in Clery Act compliance was “significantly lacking.”
Only one form used to report such crimes was completed on campus from 2007 through 2011, according to the Freeh findings. And no record exists of Paterno, Curley or assistant coach Mike McQueary reporting that McQueary saw Sandusky in a shower with a boy in 2001, as they would be obligated to do under the Clery Act.
As of last November, Penn State’s policies for Clery compliance were still in draft form and had not been implemented, the report found.
The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment on Freeh’s report.
The Big Ten said Thursday it is continuing to monitor the Penn State investigation and is prepared to review the Freeh report.
“As we have said from the beginning, the conference will reserve judgment until all information surrounding the various proceedings is made available,” the conference said in a statement. “Various federal, state and other investigations, including the grand jury investigation, are still ongoing, certain criminal trials have yet to begin, and key principals have yet to testify.
“The unprecedented nature of these circumstances requires a prudent, thoughtful and patient review. Until the record is complete and has been thoroughly reviewed by our Presidents and Chancellors, we do not anticipate commenting further.”
Freeh said he regretted the damage the findings would do to Paterno’s “terrific legacy,” but there was no attempt to pin the blame on the late coach.
“What my report says is what the evidence and the facts show,” he said.
Christian Beveridge, a masonry worker who grew up near Penn State, said the findings will ruin Paterno’s legacy but not the closeness that people in town and fans feel for him.
“He built this town,” said Beveridge, 40, resting in the shade on campus during a break. “All of his victories, he’ll be remembered by everyone in town for a long time, but there will be that hesitation.”
Information from ESPN.com’s Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.