• Download a PDF of the Freeh report here.
LINCOLN — Almost to the end, Graham Spanier remained confident he could manage the crisis facing Penn State University.
Even after a grand jury indicted two top officials for lying about child sexual abuse by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State president resisted calling an emergency meeting of the university's governing board. He downplayed the investigation and failed to inform the board that he himself had been subpoenaed.
“Spanier said he managed crises every day at Penn State and he could handle this issue,” a member of the Board of Trustees told the special investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
That “I'm-in-charge” attitude may ring a bell with those who remember Spanier as a sure-footed and ambitious administrator during his 3½ years as chancellor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Spanier left UNL in 1995 to take his dream job at Penn State and had remained a friend to UNL.
The seeds of his downfall at Penn State had grown for at least 13 years — since a mother came forward in May 1998 to say that a nude Sandusky had “bear-hugged” her 11-year-old son from behind while the two showered in a Penn State locker room.
The Freeh report, released Thursday, paints a scathing portrait of Spanier and other Penn State officials for their secretive and soft-pedaled response to two documented accusations of Sandusky inappropriately touching young boys, the one in 1998 and another in 2001.
Spanier knew of both incidents within days of their occurrence, the report concluded. Although Spanier told investigators he did not know the full extent of the incidents or their sexual nature, the Freeh report condemned Spanier and his underlings for concealing Sandusky's activities from Penn State's Board of Trustees, the university community and law enforcement.
“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being,” the report concluded.
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Quotes from the Freeh report
“Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University — President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timonthy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno — failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
“By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed in his duties as president.”
“The Board's overconfidence in Spanier's abilities to deal with the crisis, and its complacent attitude left them unprepared to respond to the November 2011 criminal charges filed against two senior Penn State leaders and a former prominent coach.”
“... to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the Unviversity — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — 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.”
“The failure of President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno and Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley to protect children by allowing Gerald A. Sandusky unrestricted and uncontrolled access to Pennsylvania State University facilities reveals numerous individual failings, but it also reveals weaknesses of the University's culture, governance, administration, compliance policies and procedures for protecting children.”
“Spanier and other University leaders failed to report timely and sufficiently the incidents of child sexual abuse against Sandusky to the Board of Trustees in 1998, 2001 and 2011.”
The board fired Spanier on Nov. 9, 2011, just four days after the grand jury indicted Vice President of Business and Finance Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley.
Several trustees told investigators that the final straw was when Spanier made changes to wording approved by the board in a press release announcing that Curley and Schultz had been placed on administrative leave. The press release said that the two had been granted the leave at their own request, which angered several board members who said the board had ousted them.
Previously, Spanier put out a tin-eared press release expressing his “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz. A communications officer told investigators he objected to the “horrendous” phrasing, but Spanier said he backed Curley and Schultz “because he had asked them to take care of something, they did it ... and he should not abandon them merely because things did not turn out well.”
Spanier had told a special investigator that he did not learn of the 1998 incident until he was questioned about it by the grand jury in 2011. However, the special investigator found that Spanier received an email about the 1998 incident from Curley two days after it occurred. That email did not mention Sandusky by name, and Spanier told investigators he did not remember it.
Spanier also received an email from Schultz in June 1998, after a police officer and a state welfare caseworker interviewed Sandusky. In the email, Schultz reported that the investigators had concluded there had been no criminal behavior.
Spanier helped negotiate a lucrative retirement package for Sandusky the following year, after head football coach Joe Paterno decided that Sandusky would not be his successor. Spanier approved an unusual one-time lump-sum payment of $168,000 and personally authorized Sandusky's “emeritus” rank, giving him continued access to Penn State facilities. Sandusky did not meet the ordinary qualifications for such post-retirement privileges. The special investigator found no evidence linking the retirement package with the 1998 police investigation.
The investigator also found that Spanier was informed within days of a Feb. 9, 2001, incident witnessed by then-football graduate assistant Mike McCreary.
McCreary has said he observed an “extremely sexual” situation between Sandusky and a prepubescent boy in the shower. McCreary reported it to Paterno the following day.
Spanier met with Schultz and Curley to discuss the incident. He said he was told it involved only “horseplay.” A plan was developed to tell Sandusky not to bring children into the football building that housed the Penn State locker room and weight room; to notify the leadership of Sandusky's children's charity, Second Mile, of the incident; and to notify Pennsylvania child welfare authorities.
By Feb. 26, 2001, Curley apparently had second thoughts. In an email to Schultz and Spanier, he said he was uncomfortable alerting others besides “the person involved.” He proposed going to Sandusky to urge him to seek professional help. He would accompany Sandusky to inform Second Mile of the incident. If Sandusky did not cooperate, child welfare authorities would be notified.
Spanier gave the OK in an email, describing it as a “humane and reasonable way to proceed.”
“The only downside for us is if the message isn't ‘heard' and acted upon and then we become vulnerable for not having reported it,” he said.
Spanier's lawyers Thursday denied that he took part in a cover-up and said Freeh's conclusion “is simply not supported by the facts.” Lawyers for Curley and Schultz said that the investigation was flawed and that their clients would prove their innocence in court. Curley lawyer Caroline Roberto called it a “lopsided document that leaves the majority of the story untold.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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