Freeh Report: Law Expert Predicts Balance, With Focus on Institutional Failings
Former FBI director Louis Freeh is set to release his much-anticipated report on Penn State Thursday morning.
That is when it will be known if it can live up to its promise of a thorough, impartial look into any governance and oversight missteps that kept a child sexual predator free to prey on children for years.
If Ground Zero of this sad ordeal is the 10 victimized children whose innocence was forever stolen by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, then the eight months of work conducted by the Freeh Group is the reckoning for an institution that allowed such monstrous acts to occur.
It is a public tarring and feathering of one of the biggest brands in higher education.
Many know what they want. Who knew what when? Why was Sandusky, who was convicted last month on 45 counts in a child sex abuse case and awaits a de-facto life sentence, not reported to law enforcement despite university officials knowing about two separate incidents of Sandusky showering with young boys?
Will they get it?
Former president Graham Spanier, a central figure in the Penn State scandal, made a voluntary decision to interview with Freeh investigators Friday. Spanier, through his attorneys Tuesday, told the Freeh Group he was not aware of any child sex abuse by Sandusky during his presidency.
On the surface, this appears baffling. Emails from Spanier reportedly say he was supportive of a decision by officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz to not report a 2001 child sex abuse allegation against Sandusky.
The leaked emails that CNN were briefed on also suggest former football coach Joe Paterno discussed the course of action university officials would take in handling the 2001 allegation.
Then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary made the allegation, but few know how extensive the probe delves into questions about the parties involved and the motives for an alleged cover-up.
Bruce Antkowiak, professor of law, legal counsel and director of the criminology, law and society program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., said this is the most intriguing development to date, one that won’t be resolved until it becomes clear what Spanier was told in context of the written emails — something that likely won’t be revealed until we reach a civil suit.
“The reports from CNN are certainly matters that put what he says at odds with what they claim,” Antkowiak said. “And to issue a categorical statement like that at this juncture means you just can’t turn away from this now because you have to see how this plays out.
"It doesn’t appear there’s a lot of room to reconcile what CNN said.”
Spanier’s attorneys said in a statement that, “selected leaks, without the full context, are distorting the public record and creating a false picture.”
Nobody had to talk to Freeh and his team of investigators, as they do not have subpoena power. Antkowiak said lying to Freeh wouldn’t result in any criminal charges. The risk of giving a categorically false statement would be compromising a defense during civil suits, which are expected to come in waves.
The Penn State Board of Trustees retained Freeh in November. Tuesday night, it held a private conference call to discuss how it would react to Freeh's findings, according to a report by ESPN's Outside the Lines.
There was ample time for Spanier to meet with investigators before July 6. The timing of Spanier’s statement, Antkowiak speculates, is to reiterate his side of the story before the Freeh Report is released online at 9 a.m. Thursday. A news conference will follow at 10 in Philadelphia.
“Does that mean you’d automatically credit anything that he or any particular person automatically says?" Antkowiak said. "The answer to that is ‘No.’ You take it for what it is and you look at all other corroborating evidence.
“Why is it criminal defense attorneys tell their client to shut up? Because you don’t advance anything by making a statement even if it’s a denial. Because if the denial is proven false, in the eyes of people who heard the denial, it makes whatever you did that much worse that even after the fact you were incapable of admitting that which you had done some time before.
“If you’re telling the truth, if categorical denial is the truth and you’re confident you can get it out there and it’s gonna stand up against whatever other evidence people have gathered, then you want to get it out there and you want to make people understand what your categorical, absolute, unqualified position is.”
Antkowiak said he has known Spanier’s attorney, Peter Vaira, for a long time and spoke highly of his reputation.
“It is not a matter you would approach cavalierly,” Antkowiak said. “And Pete Vaira would never approach a matter like this cavalierly or without considerable thought and weighing up all the ramifications of coming out with a statement like that.”
So what can we expect in the Freeh Report?
Antkowiak wouldn’t be surprised to see an executive summary at the front of the report that outlines the complete write-up. Email and other primary sources of evidence could also be attached as long as it’s privy to sensitive information like names of victims.
“If you look back on this whole issue, one of the condemnations — I hate the word transparency,” Antkowiak said. “The idea that there was not enough openness and clarity in terms of how things were handled — if you’re filing on that matter, your tendency would be to say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna play hide the ball with this thing. We’re gonna lay it all out there and let people assess it and judge it.’ ”
According to a report by Yahoo! Tuesday, “everyone” — not just Paterno and the football program — is open to blame for the Sandusky scandal.
One Penn State athletic department person interviewed by the Freeh team, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject, said interviewers took no notes or recordings during the 90-minute session.
“I left feeling more disappointed in the process,” the source said. “I didn’t know anything I was talking about, but they knew less.”
Certainly, one interview in no way represents how 400-plus interviews were conducted, and a lengthy report ought to shed some light on the matter.
Antkowiak expects the report to be balanced, focusing on identifying institutional failings and proposing changes so they don’t occur again.
“That may not become scintillating reading for people,” he said. “Whether or not the report identifies certain people as clearly having fallen down on the job and not gone through with what they were supposed to have done, the report certainly may have a more exciting patina to it.
"The charge they had in making this analysis was to find out and to make recommendation to the board about what to do next. And I think they’re looking to the Freeh committee to give them a specific laundry list to give them specific answers to those questions and recommendation as to those changes.
“Now, this is an issue of monumental proportions that has far reaching deep ramifications for individuals, for a community, for an entire major university. There’s an expectation on the part of a number of people on that board that, ‘Look, we want something of a report that has the breadth and the depth to match the issue that you were charged with giving.
“More is probably expected, a very far-ranging analysis of this problem and some direct and serious recommendations about how to go forward. Whether they’re gonna deliver that, whether they were able to deliver that given the limitations that were on them with lack of subpoena power, we’re just gonna have to wait to see.”