WASHINGTON – Top officials at Penn State University, including the late head football coach Joe Paterno, knew as far back as 1998 that Jerry Sandusky was molesting young boys on campus, yet failed to take action to stop it, according to the findings of a long-awaited report released Thursday.
The results of a seven-month investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh spare no one at the top of the Penn State hierarchy and could open a wave of legal action against the university three weeks after Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period.
“The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” the report said.
Those leaders included Paterno, former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. All four “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade,” the report said.
Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury and failure to protect children based on their testimony to a Pennsylvania grand jury. Through their lawyers, Spanier, Curley and Schultz have denied any wrongdoing.
Paterno and Spanier were fired by the university board of trustees less than a week after Sandusky’s arrest. Spanier could face similar charges as Curley and Schultz. Paterno died of lung cancer in January.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, likely will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The university board of trustees hired Freeh after Sandusky’s arrest in November to conduct the probe. The board is meeting for two days to decide how to respond to the report’s findings.
“We want to ensure we are giving the report careful scrutiny and consideration before making any announcements or recommendations,” university leaders said in a statement Thursday.
Freeh’s team spent months interviewing more than 400 university employees and reviewing critical emails exchanged by top officials. Their scathing 267-page report casts blame on the university from top to bottom.
“There’s more red flags here than you could count,” Freeh said in a news conference Thursday in Philadelphia.
The report said that top officials, including Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz, “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large” to avoid bad publicity for the university.
The report said the board of trustees failed to demand detailed information from Spanier once it became aware of the allegations against Sandusky early last year. It also said that Spanier “failed in his duties as president” when he did not advise the board about the state grand jury investigation of Sandusky.
It said that lower-ranking employees such as janitors who witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy on campus didn’t report the incident because they feared losing their jobs.
The report concluded that Penn State must “undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture,” which permitted Sandusky’s behavior and “contributed to the failure Penn State’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator.”
And while Paterno was never charged in the case and was not interviewed before investigators before his death, the report concluded that the football legend “failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away.”
“I regret that, based on the damage it does to his legacy,” Freeh said Thursday. “I wish we had the opportunity to speak to him.” Earlier in the week, Paterno’s family criticized leaked emails from the investigation that appeared to show he knew something and didn’t take action, or worse, encouraged others to not act.
But in a statement Thursday, Paterno’s family said that the late former coach “wasn’t perfect.”
“It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further,” the statement said. “He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs. We accept this criticism.”