Penn State fined record $2.4 million for handling of Sandusky abuse claims

The government levied the fine under the Clery Act, saying that Penn State failed to be sufficiently open about campus safety issues.

Pennsylvania State University faces a $2.4 million fine for mishandling complaints of sexual abuse.

The federal government has been investigating Penn State since 2011, when assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on charges of child abuse. The fine, levied Thursday, concludes the investigation. 

The penalty was made under the 1990 Clery Act, which calls for transparency about campus safety issues. A June report by the US Department of Education found that Penn State routinely ignored its responsibilities under the Act, often keeping claims of misconduct under wraps.

The Department of Education’s findings are similar to those of the Freeh report, an eight-month independent investigation commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees following Mr. Sandusky’s arrest. That report found that university officials mismanaged complaints “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.”

In 2001, the report notes, administrators were informed that Sandusky abused a boy in a team shower. A decade later, they received a similar complaint. However, they failed to warn students and employees about a potential issue as the Clery Act requires.

Indeed, Penn State concealed its investigation into a sexual abuse charge in 1998, the report finds. Though campus police logged events as innocuous as someone sleeping in a stairwell, they did not report the sexual abuse claim at all.

Annual statistics submitted to the government also hid any evidence of abuse allegations. In 2002, the university claimed to have no forcible sex offenses, even though campus police logs showed that 12 such crimes had been reported.

Part of the Clery Act fine is directed against a Penn State system that made athletes feel they were above the law. Former head football coach Joe Paterno reportedly resisted reform of the student disciplinary process, threatening his athletes with being kicked off the team if they responded to complaints by the university’s judicial affairs.

The $2.4 million fine is a record under the Clery Act. The previous high came in 2007, when Eastern Michigan University was asked to pay $357,500. That fine was reduced to $350,000 in a settlement.

Forty-five people have so far claimed to be Sandusky’s victims, according to the June report. He was convicted and imprisoned in 2012 on the basis of allegations by 10 boys, eight of whom testified at his trial. Penn State has since settled with the victims, announcing agreements with 26 victims — for a total of $60 million — in October 2013.

Following Sandusky’s arrest, several former Penn State employees were charged with child endangerment and failing to report possible abuse. Former athletic director Tim Curley, former vice president Gary Schultz, and former president Graham Spanier are waiting for their cases to go to trial. They deny the charges against them.

Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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