Joe Paterno did not cover up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago, and the way he was portrayed in the scathing report by former FBI director Louis Freeh was “a profound failure,” a report commissioned by the family said Sunday.
Through the report, the Paterno family seeks to change the national dialogue about the longtime Penn State coach whose reputation was tarnished after Freeh branded him part of a cover-up with other university leaders to escape bad publicity. The new report’s team of experts, including an FBI sex crimes profiler and a former Pennsylvania governor, ripped into Freeh’s methods and conclusions, saying he collected weak, out-of-context evidence and drew strikingly wrong conclusions.
“There is no evidence that Joe Paterno deliberately covered up known incidents of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky to protect Penn State football or for any other reason,” said former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, one of the report’s contributors. “The contrary statements in the Freeh report are unsupported and unworthy of belief.
“There is no reason to believe that Joe Paterno understood the threat posed by Jerry Sandusky better than qualified child welfare and law enforcement professionals.”
The rebuttal was made available Sunday morning on the family’s new website, Paterno.com. It followed Friday’s release of a letter from Paterno’s widow, Sue, to Nittany Lion lettermen in which she blasted the Freeh report and hinted toward the pending release of the full report.
Sue Paterno was interviewed by ABC’s Katie Couric for her show, “Katie.” The interview will air at 4 p.m. Monday.
The Paterno family’s critique called Freeh’s report “speculative and fundamentally flawed.”
“It isn’t a little wrong on the minor issues. It is totally wrong on the most critical issues,” attorney Wick Sollers said. “That the (b)oard (of trustees) and the NCAA relied on this report, without appropriate review or analysis, is a miscarriage of justice.”
Sollers said in a televised interview Sunday that the family is “considering all options at this point” on whether to file a lawsuit.
The response from the Paternos has been a long time coming. The family promised in July, after the Freeh report was released, to do their own investigation, and Sue Paterno had Sollers assemble the team to do the work.
Of course, the Paterno report re-ignited discussion over the Freeh report, which has already been bashed by Penn State reform groups, the attorneys for three senior university leaders who were indicted on cover-up charges, and people in the community. The Paternos’ 238-page report, which an author said was not a “re-investigation of the investigation,” is akin to defense attorneys in a high-profile civil lawsuit presenting their case, trying to raise doubt about and refute the plaintiff’s evidence. Except in this case, there is no trial and there is no jury, just public opinion and NCAA sanctions.
On the surface, the Paterno report does not provide documentation of new interviews or rewrite history. However, it seeks to shred some of the conclusions by raising questions about Freeh’s motives, the lack of access the investigators had to people directly involved in the scandal and the contradictions in his work.
Freeh called the Paterno report “self-serving” and reiterated belief in his work, which cost Penn State $6.5 million.
“I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade,” Freeh said in a statement. “These men exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not even attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.”
Penn State leaders distanced themselves from the Paterno report and did not mention the former coach by name in a statement that said the Freeh report’s purpose was identifying what went wrong in the university’s governance and compliance operations.
“It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report,” said the statement, issued Sunday.
The rebuttal blasts Freeh for using email conversations from 1998 and 2001 to conclude that Paterno was involved in the alleged cover-up out of a fear of bad publicity.
It calls Freeh’s work incomplete for not having interviewed witnesses such as Paterno or senior leaders Curley and Schultz, and it said Spanier was interviewed shortly before the report was released.
And it said Paterno, who was not friends with Sandusky, had no way of knowing his colleague was a pedophile.
The FBI child sex offender profiler, Jim Clemente, said the thousands of interactions Paterno had with Sandusky on the field at Beaver Stadium and behind the scenes inside the football buildings gave Sandusky a “proverbial blind spot” to hide by using his nice-guy, goofball reputation.
Freeh announced his findings during a press conference in a Philadelphia hotel in July. The NCAA used his report as the basis for leveling unprecedented sanctions against Penn State 11 days later.
The penalties included a $60 million fine, a 4-year postseason bowl ban and a personal indictment of Paterno by erasing his 111 wins from 1998 to 2011.
The Paterno family’s report dealt only with Freeh’s characterizations of Paterno, and the report highlighted what it called seven of the “most egregious, unfounded” errors in Freeh’s work.
One of the seven concerned the 1998 incident in which Sandusky was not prosecuted after university police investigated him for showering with a young boy. The Paterno report said two email conversations among Curley, Schultz and Spanier do not confirm that Paterno knew about the incident or even provided context that one of the emails that referenced a “coach” wanting an update about something was about the shower incident.
The Paternos’ analysts consulted the attorneys of Curley, Schultz and Spanier about the response to the 2001 Sandusky shower incident and found that Paterno did not try to hide the report, which was made to him by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary. Emails from 2001 suggest Paterno was involved and even influenced Curley’s decision not to go to authorities, but the Paterno report said Freeh incorrectly assumed that Paterno was the decision-maker.
The report said Freeh missed a “fundamental reality that undermines any notion that Joe Paterno would protect Jerry Sandusky if he believed Sandusky molested kids”: they were not friends and Paterno was disappointed in Sandusky’s commitment to the football team long before the defensive coordinator retired in 1999.
The report said even though the two coached together for 30 years, they did not socialize outside of work and moved in different circles. Sandusky and Paterno attended different churches, and Sandusky made people who drank alcohol feel bad, the report said.
Thornburgh said even though Freeh’s team interviewed 430 people and read more than 3 million pages of materials, there were only 30 documents used. And he blasted the work for not interviewing people necessary to draw conclusions.
“It is virtually impossible to provide a full account of incidents, and more importantly to make judgments related to them, without the benefit of talking to the individuals who were involved at the time they occurred,” Thornburgh wrote.
The report also said Freeh was biased in his work and was “under enormous pressure and scrutiny to vindicate the rights of the child victims of this tragedy.”
“That does not excuse the trampling of due process, or the finalizing of his conclusions without subjecting his views to outside scrutiny,” the report said. “Nor does it excuse intentionally placing a lightning rod directly over Joe Paterno, which was unjustified by the record but relished by some who delight in tearing down others.”
The report hinted that the Paterno family would begin supporting programs for child sex abuse awareness and prevention. The report said the details would follow, but Clemente, the FBI profiler, said he recommends a national organization to coordinate the efforts of local and state level services as well as a support group for young men Sandusky victimized.
Fred Berlin, the director of John Hopkins Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit, also contributed to the report.
Penn State trustee Paul Silvis on Sunday said for him the whole situation has been very difficult because he had personal relationships with people involved, including Curley and Paterno.
“My personal opinion is that the entire community was fooled by Jerry Sandusky.,” said Silvis, who emphasized that he could not speak for the entire board.
Silvis questioned if the trained psychologists at The Second Mile couldn‘t tell Sandusky was a pedophile, how could Joe Paterno?
“This has just been ripping Penn State apart, ripping the alumni apart,” Silvis said. “I don’t believe any of those men really knew for sure that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile because they would have acted.”
Silvis admitted he doesn’t know how the report will be received going forward, if it will be helpful or open wounds. He said all of the Penn State community needs to work together.
“The recommendations in the back of the Freeh report are really what we paid for and what we wanted,” Silvis said, adding that the trustees have “taken those to heart” and worked hard at implementing them.
Tom Kline, a Philadelphia attorney representing Victim 5 of the Sandusky case, said the Paterno report does nothing for the victims in the case but rather “perpetuates an intramural squabble now picked by the Paterno family to try to resurrect the reputation of Paterno by essentially criticizing the procedural approach of the Freeh report.”
“The criticism that somehow the Freeh report draws conclusions which are not based on facts that were established on a solid record isn’t a justifiable criticism,” Kline said. “It’s understandable that the Paterno family is interested in the restoration of the reputation of Joe Paterno, but the facts tragically and unfortunately support a different conclusion.”
The group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship offered up support Sunday for the Paterno family’s rebuttal of the Freeh report.
In a news release, the group renewed its call for the resignation of the members of the university’s board of trustees who were serving in November 2011, when Paterno was fired. The group also asked that Freeh explain his methodology.
Sandusky, 69, is in solitary confinement in the state prison in Greene County where he is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence after he was convicted on 45 counts of child abuse in June.
Curley, Schultz and Spanier are awaiting court hearings for their perjury, obstruction, child endangerment, conspiracy and related cases. All three men’s attorneys have pledged to fight the charges at trial.
CDT reporter Matt Morgan contributed to this story.