HARRISBURG, Pa. — Federal officials looking into how Penn State handled child sexual-abuse complaints against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky hit the university with a record $2.4 million fine Thursday, saying it violated campus crime reporting requirements, failed to warn people about potential threats and fostered a belief among athletes that rules didn’t apply to them.
The fine was the result of a five-year investigation begun as Sandusky’s 2011 arrest raised questions about what administrators had known about him.
A report by federal officials said Penn State officials disclosed in June that 45 people have claimed they were Sandusky’s victims. His 2012 conviction and decades-long prison sentence stem from allegations involving 10 boys.
The U.S. Department of Education concluded Penn State largely ignored many of its duties under the 1990 Clery Act, which promotes transparency about campus safety.
“When we determine that an institution is not upholding this obligation, then there must be consequences,” department Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said.
The Department of Education found Penn State violated regulations by not warning students and employees about Sandusky after administrators were told he abused a boy in a team shower in 2001 and as officials were being summoned to a grand jury and the scope of his behaviour was becoming clearer a decade later.
Sandusky, due in court Friday as he seeks to have his conviction overturned, still had access to football facilities as his arrest neared. A team official asked for Sandusky’s keys, the report said, but Sandusky refused and said handing them over might be construed as an admission of wrongdoing.
“In short, a man who was about to be charged with violent crimes against defenceless minors was free to roam the Penn State campus, as he pleased,” the report said.
Penn State said the report was being reviewed and noted that since 2011 it has implemented “robust” training and is continuing “vigorous efforts to create a culture of reporting, safety and accountability.”
The Department of Education said Penn State’s police department concealed its investigation into an earlier report involving Sandusky and a boy in a team shower. Police didn’t record the 1998 matter on their daily crime log even though university policy required the log describe the type, location and time of every criminal incident.
The university argued police couldn’t determine whether the interaction rose to the level of a sex offence and because it was unclear a crime occurred there was no need to log it. But the Department of Education noted campus police logged far less serious matters, including someone sleeping in a stairwell.
“In light of these entries, Penn State’s contention that the reported incident of a middle-aged man inappropriately touching an 11-year-old boy, while naked and showering with him, didn’t rise to the level for inclusion in the daily crime log strains credulity,” the Education Department wrote in its report .
Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice-president Gary Schultz await trial along with former president Graham Spanier on charges of endangering the welfare of children and failing to properly report suspected abuse. They deny the accusations against them.
Investigators said they also found Penn State underreported crimes in annual statistics submitted to the government. In 2002, the university said it had no forcible sex offences, but investigators said they found campus police received reports of 12 such crimes.
The report disclosed new details about the athletics staff, including that then-head coach Joe Paterno had his secretary email Spanier and Curley to say he’d take care of disciplining players involved in a 2007 off-campus fight.
Paterno had a text message sent to players telling them if they went to the university’s judicial affairs to answer code-of-conduct complaints they’d be “thrown off the team,” the report said.
The report said Paterno was seen during most of his tenure as a disciplinarian and generally didn’t interfere in police investigations or ignore bad behaviour by his players. But when the university began to reform its student disciplinary process, he resisted efforts to apply the changes to the football program, it said.
The previous record Clery Act fine was $357,500 against Eastern Michigan University in 2007, reduced to $350,000 in a settlement.