HARRISBURG — Penn State’s former president Graham Spanier initiated a libel and defamation case Thursday against Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who a year ago produced a report for the school that was highly critical of Spanier’s role in the child sex abuse scandal involving longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Paperwork filed in Centre County, where the school is located, disclosed little about the nature of his claims but checked off a box on a court system form that described the case as “slander/libel/ defamation.”
The filing was made one day before the one-year anniversary of Freeh’s report, which concluded that Spanier, late coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking Penn State administrators failed to protect children against Sandusky.
Under Pennsylvania law, those who believe they have been libeled or defamed have a year to initiate a civil lawsuit.
Calls and emails seeking comment from Freeh and from Spanier lawyer Elizabeth Ainslie were not returned. Along with Freeh, the paperwork also names as a defendant the law firm where Freeh works.
The Freeh report said Spanier told Freeh’s investigators that he never heard anyone say Sandusky was sexually abusing children.
But Freeh wrote it was more reasonable to conclude that Spanier, Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the university’s board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large.”
Curley, who was placed on leave to serve out his contract, and Schultz, now retired, were both charged in November 2011, when Sandusky was arrested, and accused of perjury and failure to properly report suspected abuse.
Spanier was forced out as president at that time, and a year later was himself charged as part of an alleged cover-up of complaints about Sandusky. A school spokesman said Thursday that Spanier remains a faculty member on administrative leave.
Paterno died of complications from lung cancer in January 2012 and was not charged with any crime.
The Freeh report’s scathing conclusions about the former coach was followed more than a week later by the school administration’s decision to remove his statue from outside the football stadium.
Additional charges were also filed against Curley and Schultz last November, but there has not been a preliminary hearing yet because of a legal dispute about the role played in the grand jury proceedings by Cynthia Baldwin, a former state Supreme Court justice who at the time was Penn State’s top lawyer.
On Tuesday, a district judge in the Harrisburg suburbs announced the preliminary hearing would be held for Spanier, Schultz and Curley starting July 29 in the county courthouse.
The hearing will determine if there are grounds to forward the case to county court for trial.
All three men have vigorously denied the allegations against them.
Sandusky, 69, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including violent attacks on boys inside school facilities, after a three-week trial last summer in which eight victims testified against him. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term and maintains he was wrongfully convicted. He is pursuing appeals.