Penn State trustees learned Friday that the university is implementing recommendations offered by ex-FBI director Louis Freeh, who’s leading an internal investigation into a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach.
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The board met to discuss changes to the way it operates in a bid to become more open in the aftermath of harsh criticism over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which has led to the firing of head coach Joe Paterno and the dismissal of then-school president Graham Spanier in November.
The details provided by Penn State President Rodney Erickson came as the school’s lawyer said that a number of Penn State employees had received subpoenas from the state attorney general’s office while Sandusky’s lawyer told a judge he needs psychological reports, juvenile arrest records and other documents about his client’s accusers to prepare for trial in the child sexual abuse case.
Defense attorney Joe Amendola filed a 17-page response that said several of the accusers used drugs and alcohol as juveniles, which may have affected their memories and could be used to challenge their testimony on the stand.
He also asked Judge John Cleland to order the release of a psychologist’s report related to a person described as Victim 6 in a grand jury report because he believes it contains a conclusion that the boy wasn’t sexually abused by Sandusky.
The grand jury said Victim 6’s mother complained after he came home with wet hair after showering with Sandusky in 1998. The subsequent investigation by Penn State police did not result in any charges being filed at the time.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office declined comment on the filing by Amendola.
The sides are battling over what must be disclosed prior to Sandusky’s trial on 52 counts, and Amendola said prosecutors should not be able to shield records through the secretive grand jury process.
”If the commonwealth can conceal evidence by presenting it to a grand jury, the temptation to abuse the grand jury practice will increase significantly,” Amendola wrote.
Sandusky, 68, is confined to his home as he awaits an expected mid-May trial. He has denied the allegations he abused 10 boys over a 15-year period, including at his State College home and in university athletic facilities.
The development comes as Penn State begins implementing recommendations offered by Freeh.
Erickson told university trustees at a meeting in Hershey on Friday that the university is enhancing background checks for staffers working with children and adding more staffers to oversee its compliance with various federal laws and NCAA rules.
Erickson said Penn State will immediately retrieve keys, access cards and other property from people who aren’t formally associated with the university. Sandusky had a key to the football building long after his 1999 retirement.
Freeh’s investigation is focusing on whether Penn State did enough to stop Sandusky after he was accused of assaulting youths. The results of Freeh’s investigation are expected later this year.
Erickson said a website that Penn State recently launched to foster greater transparency has garnered nearly 10,000 visitors and ”seems to be facilitating a greater flow of information to our constituents.”
As part of the changes adopted Friday, the 32-member Board of Trustees will now have five committees instead of three. A couple of existing committees were combined, while new groups will focus on outreach and development; governance; and risk, legal and compliance.
Trustee Joel Myers said the changes were positive results that emerged from a major negative and went along with a renewed emphasis on transparency.
Some ex-football players and vocal alumni disapprove of trustees’ actions in the aftermath of the charges against Sandusky, including the ouster of Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
Former Penn State and NFL star Franco Harris was unimpressed by the trustees’ actions, saying the entire board should be replaced.
”For the good of Penn State, and for Penn state to heal, this board, everyone on this board, needs to be removed,” Harris, who’s involved with an alumni group called Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, said outside the meeting room.
During the meeting, Harris raised his hand to ask a question but was not called on.
”They let things run wild and let all this misinformation and untruths go unchallenged, and because of that, all that misinformation stuck,” said Harris, who played under Paterno and called the board’s decision to fire him ”unconscionable.”
The board has said it fired Paterno because he failed to do more after learning of an allegation of sexual assault involving Sandusky. Harris said the board acted in haste and without all the facts.
Harris, who left the meeting early, said he found it disrespectful and ”very, very disturbing” that the board failed to note Paterno’s death in its first gathering since it happened.
Despite the anger expressed by alumni and others, Friday’s meeting progressed uneventfully.
The trustees meeting began hours after Penn State’s in-house lawyer said on the university website that ”a number” of its employees had received subpoenas from the state attorney general’s office. General counsel Cynthia Baldwin did not say how many were received or what information was sought or provide other details.
Spokesman Bill Mahon said the administration learned of the subpoenas after being informed by two employees who received the notices. Mahon said he had no additional information and referred questions to the state attorney general’s office, which declined to comment.