Thursday, July 12, 2012
Notes from Louis Freeh news conference
By Adam Rittenberg
PHILADELPHIA -- Judge Louis Freeh on Thursday handed down a stinging report on Penn State’s actions surrounding the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, and it’s time to look at some of the key points he addressed.
Speaking before a packed room of media members and his own team that conducted an eight-month investigation, Freeh targeted four men at the top of Penn State's leadership chain -- former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley, who is currently on leave, and former football coach Joe Paterno -- as well as the school's board of trustees, which hired Freeh to conduct the probe but committed a "failure of governance" in creating an environment of non-accountability.
The most damning elements of the report concerned the knowledge Penn State officials had about allegations regarding Sandusky in both 1998 and 2001, and their failure to report it to outside authorities.
Here are some of the quotes and notes that stood out to me after attending the news conference:
- Freeh clearly explained that the failure at Penn State went from top-level administrators to the janitors who cleaned and maintained the locker room at the Lasch football building, where Sandusky committed many of his rapes. "They [the janitors] witnessed what I think in the report is probably the most horrific rape that's described. And what do they do? They panic. The janitor who observed this said it's the worst thing he ever saw. This is a Korean War veteran who said, 'I've never seen anything like that. It makes me sick.' He spoke to the other janitors. They were alarmed and shocked by it. But what did they do? They said, 'We can't report this because we’ll get fired.' They knew who Sandusky was. … They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the president of the United States. If that's the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top."
- Freeh was somewhat diplomatic but remained on the attack when asked about both Paterno and the board of trustees. He stated several times that he wanted to speak to Paterno and believed Paterno had a case to make to the investigators. He called Paterno "a person with a terrific legacy." Freeh went on to say that Paterno "made perhaps the worst mistake of his life, but we're not singling him out." He also acknowledged Paterno could have stopped Sandusky's crimes because of the power he held. Asked whether trustees who held their positions during the period of Sandusky's crimes and remain in them today should resign, Freeh declined to comment, saying the question should be directed to the board. But speaking generally about the trustees, he said, "The board failed in its oversight of the senior officers of the universities. They did not create an atmosphere where the president and the senior officers felt they were accountable to the board." The board's failure continued all the way until Sandusky was charged, Freeh said.
- Although Paterno undoubtedly will be the focus of the media coverage today and in the coming days, Freeh made it clear that others were just as culpable, if not more so. Spanier's actions, including his refusal to provide trustees with information, according to Freeh, were both shocking and embarrassing. Freeh discussed Schultz's 1998 confidential notes after being told of a complaint against Sandusky, "To ask the question, 'Does this open a Pandora's box? Other children?' is a very strong inference that they were focused not just on what the report was, but the implications." Spanier and Schultz both use the word "humane" in their emails discussing how to deal with Sandusky.
- One of the big debates will be about the differences between what Freeh's group found regarding Paterno and what the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office included in its grand jury presentation. Paterno’s supporters will point to the fact that Paterno never spoke with the Freeh team, and the state didn't charge him after hearing his testimony about the 2001 incident involving Sandusky that assistant coach Mike McQueary relayed to him. "The attorney general has a different standard with respect to deciding whether to charge or whether not to charge," Freeh said. "We don't have a reasonable-doubt standard. Our conclusion … was a reasonable conclusion based on the facts and circumstances."
- Arguably the biggest bombshell in the Freeh report concerns the 1998 allegations against Sandusky and what Penn State's leadership knew. This took place while Sandusky was still employed at the school. Freeh didn't find evidence of allegations in the 1970s or 1980s. Many of Sandusky's crimes took place between 1998 and 2002. "What's striking about 1998 is nobody even spoke to Sandusky, none of those four, including the coach, who was a few steps away," Freeh said.
- Freeh briefly addressed the NCAA and Big Ten, saying that his group has been in contact with both organizations throughout the investigation but didn’t provide them with any of the findings before Thursday’s release. "What they find is going to be based on their criteria and their conclusions," he said.
The scene outside the news conference featured several attorneys of Sandusky's victims speaking to reporters, as well as several people who support Paterno and believe the real blame remains with Penn State's trustees.
Brian Masella, who played for Paterno at Penn State from 1971 to 1975, believes Paterno didn't purposefully withhold information about Sandusky.
"As a player, if we did anything wrong, he came down very, very hard on us," Masella said. "Obviously, this is a little bit different of a situation. [Freeh] made it sound like Joe was in charge of everything. He wasn't. He did not make a lot of the decisions on campus, like everybody thinks."
Larry Leise, who represents the group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, places the blame with the trustees and said the only mistake Paterno might have made was following policy of how to report allegations.
"Maybe he should not have," Leise said. "As a football fan, a lot of times Joe Paterno was a little too strict on his playbook. You could always predict what he was going to do. He was very rigid. What he did was perfectly legal, what he thought in his heart was right. He just wanted to do what the law was and what the policies were. For that, I blame Penn State, I don't blame Joe Paterno.
"He's basically the good soldier following orders."
I'm off to the trustees' news conference in Scranton, Pa. Check back later for more.