Freeh: Penn State put rep over children

July 12, 2012 at 10:15 AM
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PHILADELPHIA, July 12 (UPI) -- Senior leaders at Penn State University failed for years to act to protect children victimized by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, an investigation found.

"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," former FBI Director Louis Freeh, said Thursday of the independent report. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Sandusky last month was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse, including rape and sodomy, by a jury in Bellefonte, Pa.

Freeh's investigation, which began seven months ago, included more than 430 interviews of current and former Penn State employees from various departments, as well as current and past board of trustee members, former coaches, athletes and others. Investigators also analyzed more than 3.5 million e-mails and other documents.

Freeh said university leaders at the time -- President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, head football Coach Joe Paterno and Athletic Director Tim Curley -- "never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest."

When a former graduate assistant reported seeing Sandusky with a young boy in shower in February 2001, instead of protecting the child, "it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University ... repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large," Freeh said.

"Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims," the former FBI director said.

Freeh said evidence indicated Paterno, who was fired over the matter and died months later, was made aware of a 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it, but failed to take any action.

"At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff," he said, adding that Paterno, Schultz, Curley and Spanier "even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."

Freeh said Paterno died before his investigators could speak to him, although the panel did speak with some of Paterno's family.

"We believe that he was willing to speak with us and would have done so, but for his serious, deteriorating health," Freeh said. "We were able to review and evaluate his grand jury testimony, his public statements, and notes and papers from his files that were provided to us by his attorney."

The report also found the board of trustees lacked regular reporting procedures or committee structures to ensure disclosure of major risks to the university.

The board did not independently ask for more information or assess under-reporting by Spanier about the Sandusky investigation after May 2011, thereby "failed to oversee properly his executive management of the worst crisis in Penn State's history," Freeh said.

The board was unprepared to deal with the filing of criminal charges against senior university leaders and Sandusky, as well as Paterno's firing, he said.

Freeh said the report offered more than 100 recommendations.

"One of the most important of our recommendations is for Penn State itself to study, evaluate and make any needed additional changes," he said. "The goal should be to create a more open and compliant culture, which protects children and not adults who abuse them."

Freeh said the release of the report "marks the beginning of a process for Penn State, and not the end."

He said it was "critical" that university leaders and board members "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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