PHILADELPHIA — Calling it a “blundering and indefensible indictment,” lawyers for ex-Penn State President Graham Spanier on Wednesday blasted the Freeh Report over its finding that leadership failures at the university allowed retired football coach Jerry Sandusky to continue molesting boys.
The report twists the truth to portray Spanier as a participant in an agreement to cover up allegations against Sandusky for well over a decade, said Timothy K. Lewis, a retired federal judge who is among a group of lawyers representing Spanier.
Lewis said the report, penned by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, wrongly gives the impression Spanier was aware that Sandusky was a predator lurking on the Penn State campus and protected him to avoid bad publicity.
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“The truth makes clear that he did not,” Lewis said. “Sadly, much of the truth was either deliberately omitted from the report or manipulated into a shrill distortion.”
The statements appeared to kick off a public relations blitz for Spanier, who is waiting to learn whether he will be charged in an ongoing investigation of the Penn State sex scandal.
Before Wednesday’s news conference in Philadelphia, Spanier gave interviews to the New Yorker magazine and ABC News. Spanier was not present when his lawyers spoke to reporters.
The Freeh Report, released July 12, concluded Spanier, head football coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired Vice President Gary Schultz heard complaints about Sandusky’s behavior as early as 1998 — when university police investigated Sandusky’s showering with a boy on campus — but did nothing.
In 2001, when then-graduate assistant football coach Mike McQueary reported seeing Sandusky raping a boy in a locker room shower, Spanier, Curley and Schultz backed down from a plan to report the allegation to authorities, according to the report.
Sandusky, 68, in June was convicted of 45 counts related to child sexual abuse, including several stemming from the 1998 and 2001 incidents. He awaits sentencing later this year.
Spanier’s legal team, which includes former federal prosecutors Peter Vaira, John Riley and Elizabeth Ainslie, on Wednesday released an 18-page document detailing their criticism of Freeh’s investigation and findings.
They also released a letter from one of Paterno’s personal physicians to President Rodney Erickson and the board of trustees, detailing his last meeting with Paterno in December. Dr. Gary Gray wrote that the coach recalled “McQueary had told him that he had seen Jerry engaged in horseplay or horsing around with a young boy.”
Although it made Paterno uncomfortable, “McQueary wasn’t sure what was happening,” Gray wrote, noting that in recounting the conversation with McQueary, Paterno did not use any terms with sexual overtones.
Paterno, 85, died of lung cancer in January.
Spanier’s lawyers said Freeh’s team, commissioned by the board of trustees to investigate the failure of Penn State officials to report Sandusky’s abuse to authorities, made a number of missteps and took shortcuts.
According to Spanier’s lawyers:
• Freeh’s investigators failed to interview key witnesses such as Paterno or Dr. Jonathan Dranov. Either would have corroborated Spanier’s position that McQueary never made it clear that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a locker room shower in 2001.
•Freeh’s team relied on a handful of emails from 2001 to support Spanier’s involvement in a cover-up, when most university emails from before 2004 were not available to provide context.
•Freeh’s investigators used information from unreliable sources, including statements from Sandusky’s defense attorneys and lawyers for his charity for at-risk kids, The Second Mile. Both had interests at odds with Spanier’s.
Spanier’s lawyers identified what they say are outright omissions and unsupported conclusions in the Freeh Report. Among them, they said, is the notion that Spanier and the others worked to conceal the 1998 incident after university police, child welfare officials and the district attorney concluded no sexual assault had occurred.
They also criticized the Freeh report for characterizing a lump sum severance payment to Sandusky on his retirement as unusual. They said the payment was in line with a tradition of fairly compensating retiring coaches and that the emeritus status conferred on Sandusky carried the same privileges extended to any retiree.
“There is nothing ‘full or complete’ about the Freeh Report,” Lewis said. “Nor am I aware of any court in the land that would accept such unsupported and outrageous conclusions as ‘independent,’ or any judge who would put his or her name behind them.”
Spanier told the New Yorker he has no recollection of the 1998 incident. While he acknowledged that he received two emails about a university police investigation in 1998, Spanier maintains that they did not identify Sandusky as the subject and said that the matter had concluded without charges.
Discussing the 2001 incident, Spanier said Curley and Schultz reported only that Sandusky was “horsing around” in the shower with a boy. “I remember, for a moment, sort of figuratively scratching our heads and thinking about what’s an appropriate way to follow up on ‘horsing around.’ I had never gotten a report like that before,” Spanier said.
According to the Freeh Report, the men agreed to report the allegation to The Second Mile and a state child welfare official. But the plan changed two days later, after Curley spoke with Paterno and told Spanier he was uncomfortable with going to authorities. Instead, Curley suggested offering Sandusky counseling and help in discussing the allegation with officials at The Second Mile.
Spanier agreed, writing in a Feb. 27, 2001, email, the “only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
Spanier said the email was taken out of context. He meant that it was humane of Curley to offer to discuss the decision with Sandusky first.
“I think what many people wanted to read into it was that it was humane for us not to turn him in for being a known child predator. But I never, ever heard anything about child abuse or sexual abuse or my antennae raised up enough to even suspect that,” Spanier told the New Yorker.