Jerry Sandusky probe: Penn State showed 'total disregard' for kids' safety

The eight-month investigation and its 267-page report are devastating in their detail and implication about the events surrounding former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.

Matt Rourke/AP
Former FBI director Louis Freeh speaks about the report into the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal during a news conference on Thursday in Philadelphia. Mr. Freeh says the most 'saddening and sobering' finding from his group's report is the 'total disregard' of Penn State senior leaders for the safety and welfare of the ex-coach's child victims.

An eight-month investigation of the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky concludes that “a terrible tragedy was allowed to occur over many years” and holds “the most senior leaders at Penn State” accountable.

Led by Louis Freeh, a former FBI director and former federal judge, the investigation and its 267-page report are devastating in their detail and implication. The report charges former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, former head football coach Joe Paterno, and suspended athletic director Tim Curley with “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”

Known incidents involving Mr. Sandusky and the boys he’s been convicted of abusing go back more than a decade. Last month, Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 charges of child sex abuse involving 10 boys over 15 years. He is awaiting sentencing.

There had been hints and rumors of Sandusky’s conduct, including the episode in which Mike McQueary, at the time a graduate assistant, said he witnessed what looked like Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the team locker-room shower in 2001.

Mr. McQueary told Mr. Paterno and other university officials what he had seen, but law-enforcement authorities were not informed, and a series of e-mails indicates that officials concluded that a more “humane and a reasonable way to proceed” would be to approach Sandusky with the allegation but not involve state authorities.

As with other instances said to have involved Sandusky’s conduct, the response – keeping the situation within the university – apparently enabled the abuse to continue. Or as the Freeh report puts it, university officials acted "in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.''

“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” Mr. Freeh said at a press briefing Thursday morning. “Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest” last November.

With release of the Freeh report, the Penn State board of trustees – which commissioned the independent investigation – began reviewing the findings and recommendations.

“We expect a comprehensive analysis of our policies, procedures and controls related to identifying and reporting crimes and misconduct, including failures or gaps that may have allowed alleged misconduct to go undetected or unreported,” the trustees said in a statement Thursday.

The trustees themselves come under harsh criticism from Freeh – particularly in their oversight of Spanier, who was forced to resign when the scandal came to light.

“Although we found no evidence that the Penn State Board of Trustees was aware of the allegations regarding Sandusky in 1998 and 2001,” the investigation found, “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.”

This atmosphere apparently extended from top to bottom in the university’s hierarchy.

Poignantly, janitors who witnessed one “horrific 2000 sexual assault of a young boy ... were afraid of being fired for reporting a powerful football coach."

Freeh’s investigative team included former prosecutors, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, and Pennsylvania and Delaware State Police officers, who conducted more than 430 interviews and analyzed some 3.5 million e-mails and other documents. Most important to their findings, Freeh said, was “critical, contemporaneous correspondence from the times of these events.”

Some of Sandusky’s accusers are expected to sue the university for failure to act in preventing years of sexual abuse. Penn State, with an endowment of $1.8 billion, would prefer to settle such cases out of court.

“The University plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the University arising out of Mr. Sandusky's conduct,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement immediately after Sandusky was found guilty in a jury trial June 22. “The purpose of the program is simple – the University wants to provide a forum where the University can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims' concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the University.”

Meanwhile, former vice president Schultz and suspended athletic director Curley face charges of lying to a grand jury about the 2001 incident witnessed and reported by McQueary.

The university has begun implementing changes in policies and procedures, including annual training on child abuse, mandatory reporting for all employees, and strengthened background checks.

But as Freeh said in releasing the results of his investigation, this marks the beginning of a process for Penn State and not the end.

“It is critical that ... 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.”

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