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Louis Freeh Issues Scathing Report on Penn State Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations

Publisher: Day Pitney
July 12, 2012
Day Pitney Author(s) John P. McLafferty

This morning former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued his highly anticipated report (the "Freeh Report") concerning the actions of the Pennsylvania State University surrounding child abuse committed by former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The Freeh Report, released to the public and the university simultaneously, found multiple examples of failures by university personnel to respond to and prevent sexual abuse of children, concluding that senior Penn State leaders demonstrated "total and consistent disregard...for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims." Freeh's investigation also uncovered e-mail and other evidence challenging statements by key members of the university administration that they were unaware of the sexual nature of Sandusky's inappropriate conduct. The Freeh Report presents compelling reminders and helpful lessons to be heeded by institutions providing service to or facilities used by children, in efforts to ensure programs and procedures are carefully designed and implemented to uncover promptly and to address effectively any instance of abuse.

Background

On November 4, 2011, a Pennsylvania state grand jury issued a report detailing a number of alleged incidents of sexual abuse by Sandusky against young boys over a period of more than a decade. Among those incidents was an alleged sexual assault in 2001 by Sandusky on a young boy in a Penn State shower room. That assault was witnessed by a graduate assistant, Michael McQueary, who subsequently reported the incident to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. McQueary's report was relayed to Athletic Director Tim Curley, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and President Graham Spanier. According to the grand jury report, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier all claimed they did not understand McQueary's report to allege sexual misconduct. Sandusky's conduct was never reported to law enforcement or the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

In June 2012, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges of perjury and failure to report Sandusky's abuse pursuant to Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting statute. McQueary, Paterno (who died in January 2012) and Spanier have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

The Freeh Report

Freeh and his firm were retained by a task force established by the Penn State Board of Trustees shortly after the grand jury report was issued to investigate the university's actions with regard to Sandusky's alleged child abuse. During the course of their investigation, Freeh and his team interviewed more than 430 current and former Penn State employees and others and reviewed 3.5 million pages of e-mails and other documents. The investigation focused not only on the specific allegations of the 2001 incident but also on university policies and protocols generally and the culture of the football program in particular.

Among the key findings detailed in the Freeh Report:

  • The desire to avoid bad publicity was the most significant cause of the administration's failure to report Sandusky to the proper authorities or to the Board.
  • E-mail messages in February 2001 demonstrate that Schultz, Curley and Spanier initially decided to report the 2001 incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. However, following a conversation with Paterno, Curley changed course and recommended the school get Sandusky "professional help" instead of reporting him to state authorities or to The Second Mile, a charity founded by Sandusky through which he met most of his victims. Spanier expressed reservations that the school might "become vulnerable for not having reported" Sandusky to authorities, yet still Spanier approved Curley's recommendation not to report Sandusky's conduct.
  • The failure to report the 2001 incident created a dangerous situation for other boys whom Sandusky "lured" to the Penn State campus and who were victimized by him.
  • Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the university community and state authorities, and exhibited a "striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims."
  • The Board failed in its oversight duties by creating an environment where senior university officials were not held accountable to the board. Freeh also found the Board failed in its duties by not inquiring adequately about allegations concerning Sandusky, particularly after many of the accusations came to light in the local press in March 2011.
  • Penn State failed to implement the Clery Act, a 1990 federal law that requires collecting data on and reporting of certain crimes, including Sandusky's sexual assault. Indeed, on the day Sandusky was arrested, Penn State's Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form.

Recommendations

The Freeh Report concludes by making 120 specific recommendations to prevent similar failures from occurring again at the university. Among those recommendations are suggestions that Penn State:

  • Change its culture to place the needs of children above the needs of adults and to create an environment where reports of inappropriate conduct are encouraged.
  • Review and revise its organizational administrative structure, and implement policies and procedures that discourage the type of publicity-driven decisions allegedly made by Spanier, Curley, Paterno and Schultz.
  • Strengthen the role of the Board in overseeing the actions of the administration, to increase public confidence and transparency in the university's actions.
  • Create a Compliance Committee of the Board, and implement a stringent program to ensure compliance with the Clery Act and similar statutes.
  • Integrate the Athletic Department, which traditionally has operated as an "island" within Penn State, more fully into the broader university community, to ensure consistent application of university procedures.

The goal of these recommendations, according to Freeh, is to "create a more open and compliant culture, which protects children and not adults who abuse them."

To be sure, the Freeh Report is not the last word in the Sandusky/Penn State scandal. Key figures such as Spanier, Curley, Schultz and the family of Joe Paterno are likely to take issue with some or all of its findings. Additional evidence will arise in the Curley and Schultz perjury trials, in the ongoing and expected civil suits against Sandusky and Penn State, and in conjunction with investigations under way by the Pennsylvania attorney general, the NCAA, the U.S. Department of Education and the United States Attorney's Office. Still, the findings and recommendations contained in the Freeh Report provide helpful lessons for any institution intent on providing a safe environment for children.

Our lawyers have significant experience advising clients on designing and implementing policies and procedures to minimize the potential for child abuse and related governance matters and, if necessary, addressing effectively allegations of child abuse if they occur. If you have any questions concerning the Freeh Report, please contact any of the lawyers listed in this alert.

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