Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Paterno family, others react to Penn State insurance claims

Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during Penn State Media Day at State College, Pa. Friday, Aug. 6, 1999.
Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during Penn State Media Day at State College, Pa. Friday, Aug. 6, 1999. The Associated Press, file

With the release of hundreds of pages of documents surrounding Penn State’s settlements with Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse claimants, there has followed another kind of release.

The Penn State community is reacting to the stories, and they are not doing it with short “no comment” kind of statements.

Dottie Sandusky, wife of the retired defensive coordinator found guilty of 45 counts of child sex crimes in 2012, maintained her stalwart support of her husband.

“They’re not truth. They’re not right,” she said of the allegations, including claims from the 1970s that say longtime Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno didn’t just know about but dismissed a child’s claim.

“There’s just so many discrepancies in them,” she said.

Discrepancies like Kevin O’Dea witnessing an incident at Penn State in 1988, according to an expert witness named Raymond Williams, of Northport Financial LLC. O’Dea, a Williamsport native, was between stints at Cornell and Virginia in 1988, and didn’t come to Penn State until 1991 as a graduate assistant, and later an assistant coach in 1992.

Another coach, Joseph Sarra, was said to have witnessed an incident in 1987. He can’t verify that story, however, as he died in July 2012, days after the Freeh report was released and days before the NCAA leveled historic sanctions on Penn State.

“It’s not fair to his wife and family. It’s totally, totally crazy. Someone needs to get to the truth, and I’m hoping we will get there,” said Dottie Sandusky. “These allegations are ridiculous. There’s no way. Joe Paterno is not that kind of a person. He would not have put up with that. He would not have brushed it aside the way they are saying. I wish someone would get to the bottom of it.”

The family of Jim Tarman, a former Penn State athletic director who was also noted as having been looped in on the earlier reports of Sandusky incidents, spoke up as well.

“Any discussion of the documents released today should begin with the recognition that innocent children were hurt, and they and their families remain in the prayers of the Tarman family, which has deep roots in State College and central Pennsylvania,” said attorney Laurel Brandstetter.

“The documents raise many questions and unsubstantiated claims, including whether Mr. Tarman went to the Nittany House as described in John Doe 102’s deposition. Joe Doe 102, in fact, said he ‘wouldn’t testify under oath it was Jim Tarman,’ ” Brandstetter said. “Ignoring allegations of child sexual abuse would be entirely inconsistent with the man his family knew. Throughout his career, Mr. Tarman was widely regarded as a highly principled person who could be counted on to do the right thing.”

But Tarman cannot make those statements for himself. Brandstetter says the man who steered the athletic department for 11 years in the 1980s and 1990s suffers from dementia and has for almost a decade.

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship places the blame on the university for its handling of the situation.

“Analysis of the information released today further underscores the Penn State board of trustees’ inability to act in the best interest of Penn State at every turn,” said spokesperson Maribeth Roman Schmidt. “It is our opinion that the legal subcommittee is criminally negligent for paying out claims without first having the approval of the insurance company, and with seemingly haphazard inconsistency.”

The group has been frequently critical of the trustees and administration. They count not only the $93 million paid for the settlements with 33 claimants but the $8 million price tag for the university-commissioned Freeh report, as well as the legal fees and the $60 million NCAA-levied fine. That fine was later changed to $48 million to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and a $12 million dedicated fund at Penn State.

“This is a clear fiduciary breach on behalf of the Penn State board of trustees, and specifically the legal subcommittee who negotiated these settlements. We ask that any and all trustees who were privy to this process be summarily dismissed from their roles on the Penn State board.”

The Paterno family has been critical of the fallout from the Sandusky case that vilified Paterno, a man who was synonymous with the university for decades. Attorney Wick Sollers called them “outspoken in their desire” for the whole story.

“With this latest release of information, the total mishandling of the Sandusky investigation is highlighted once again,” he said.

Paterno does not fare well in the newest releases, which include a deposition with John Doe 150, who claims he told the coach when he was 14 and was dismissed.

“The overwhelming evidence confirms that Joe Paterno never engaged in a cover up of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes,” said Sollers in a statement. “The materials released today relating to Joe Paterno allege a conversation that occurred decades ago where all parties except the accuser are now dead. In addition, there are numerous specific elements of the accusations that defy all logic and have never been subjected to even the most basic objective examination. Most significantly, there is extensive evidence that stands in stark contrast to this claim.”

They blamed the media for the extensive “rhetoric” surrounding the case and the university for settling claims the family say were unfounded.

“That Penn State chose to settle claims without fully assessing the underlying facts is something that the university obviously felt they had to do to help resolve this matter. We understand their desire for closure, but it does not remotely validate the assertions about an uncorroborated conversation with Joe Paterno,” Sollers said. “Sadly, one of the lessons from the Sandusky tragedy is how not to investigate a crime of this type.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce