STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WFAN/AP) — Hours after a man contended in a lawsuit that Jerry Sandusky sexually abused him more than 100 times, Penn State leaders pledged to raise ethics “to a new level” on a campus coming to grips with the shocking criminal allegations against the school’s once-revered assistant football coach.
President Rod Erickson and other administrators faced pointed questions at a student-organized town hall forum Wednesday night, part of what Erickson promised would be a new emphasis on transparency.
Authorities have charged Sandusky with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, and the state police commissioner has criticized school leaders for failing to do more to alert authorities to the allegations.
Ethics would be raised “to a new level so that everyone at the university understands not just the legal thing to do, but the moral thing to do, so that we learn to do the right thing the first time, every time,” Erickson told about 450 attendees at a crowded auditorium at the student union building.
Students appeared grateful to get answers more than three weeks after Sandusky was charged Nov. 5, hopeful it would aid in the arduous healing process.
“I think this is a good start for a lot of good things that can happen at the university,” said student Andrew Comes, 21, following the two-hour forum. “It’s a singularly bad event, but there can still be positive repercussions and good things happening from it.”
Earlier Wednesday, a new accuser who is not part of the criminal case said in a lawsuit that Sandusky threatened to harm his family to keep him quiet.
The 29-year-old, identified only as John Doe, had never told anyone about the abuse he claims he suffered until Sandusky was charged last month with abusing other boys. His lawyer said he filed a complaint with law enforcement on Tuesday. He became the first plaintiff to file suit in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal a day later.
Sandusky has acknowledged that he showered with boys but denied molesting them. His lawyer did not immediately return a message about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims Sandusky abused the boy from 1992, when the boy was 10, until 1996 in encounters at the coach’s State College home, in a Penn State locker room and on trips, including to a bowl game. The account echoes a grand jury’s description of trips, gifts and attention lavished on other boys.
“I am hurting and have been for a long time because of what happened, but feel now even more tormented that I have learned of so many other kids were abused after me,” the plaintiff said in a handwritten statement his lawyer read aloud at a news conference in Philadelphia.
The lawsuit seeks tens of thousands of dollars and names Sandusky, the university and Sandusky’s The Second Mile charity as defendants. The man says he knew the coach through the charity, which Sandusky founded in 1977, ostensibly to help disadvantaged children in central Pennsylvania.
The man was not referenced in the grand jury report.
His lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said he believes Sandusky was a predator who could not control his sexual impulses toward children. He harshly criticized officials at Penn State and The Second Mile.
“We need to address the institutional recklessness and failures,” said Anderson, who specializes in clergy sex abuse lawsuits. “Was it because of power, money, fear, loyalty, lack of education?”
Erickson said after the forum he had not read the complaint. Asked if the school was prepared for the financial and legal exposure that might accompany what could be the first of several civil suits, Erickson said, “Certainly we have insurance coverage for the costs that will be involved, and we’ll respond appropriately.”
The charity said it would respond after reviewing the lawsuit but added: “The Second Mile will adhere to its legal responsibilities throughout this process. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff said Sandusky gave him gifts, travel and privileges after meeting him through his charity in 1992. The abuse began shortly afterward, the suit said.
Anderson suggested that it ended four years later because Sandusky was not sexually interested in older teens.
Anderson described Penn State and the charity as entwined institutions, and he contended that both failed to ensure that children were safe when they took part in trips and activities. He declined to say which bowl game the boy attended.
Sandusky took one boy he molested to the Alamo Bowl in Texas in 1999 and threatened to send him home when he resisted his advances, the grand jury said.
The bowl proved to be Sandusky’s last game as Penn State’s defensive coordinator. Once the heir apparent of longtime football coach Joe Paterno, Sandusky left after Paterno told him he would not get the head coaching job.
John Doe’s lawsuit seeks a minimum of $400,000 in damages for sexual abuse, negligence, emotional distress and other claims. The accuser long thought he was the only victim and was mired in guilt and self-loathing, his lawyer said.
“Now that I have done something about it, I am feeling better and going to get help and work with the police,” the accuser wrote in his statement.
Anderson declined to specify what sexual acts his client says took place, but he called them “severe.” Nor would he say which police agency his client contacted on Tuesday.
Police in Philadelphia and State College said they were not aware of such a complaint. The attorney general’s office, which led the grand jury investigation, and state police said they could not disclose if a report was filed.
A university spokeswoman said police have received two complaints since Sandusky’s arrest, the most recent from a prison inmate in Oklahoma, and both have been turned over to the attorney general’s office. Anderson said his client John Doe is not that Oklahoma inmate.
By Anderson’s count, the grand jury report lists 17 adults made aware of complaints or suspicions about the coach over the years, including those who knew of a 1998 complaint that Sandusky had showered with a Second Mile boy. Police pursued that mother’s complaint and compiled more than 100 pages of investigatory notes, but no charges were filed.
Had John Doe known about that, he might have come forward to a parent or counselor years ago, Anderson said.
In State College, administrators sought to reassure students worried about the unintended ramifications of the scandal, such as the reputation of a Penn State degree.
After several questioners mentioned they felt shamed by the scandal, vice president Henry Foley, as part of an answer about the school’s top three priorities, told students to focus on academics and to “recognize that none of you are guilty. … You may feel shame, but none of you are guilty. Just keep doing what you came here to do.”
An overflow crowd watched the forum in another auditorium at the student union, while students at Penn State branch campuses could also email questions.
The grand jury said the allegations against Sandusky were not immediately brought to the attention of authorities even though high-level people at Penn State apparently knew about at least one of them.
The scandal has resulted in the departures of Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. Athletic Director Tim Curley has been placed on administrative leave, and Vice President Gary Schultz, who was in charge of the university’s police department, has stepped down.
Schultz and Curley are charged with lying to the grand jury and failure to report to police. Sandusky is charged with child sex abuse. All maintain their innocence.
Erickson told reporters after the forum that Spanier was currently on sabbatical, and that as a tenured faculty member would have the right to teach if he so desired.
Several students also asked about the treatment of Paterno, who was the only school leader fired in the scandal’s aftermath. Erickson said afterward he could not offer a detailed answer because it was the trustees’ decision.
He reiterated there was no truth to Internet-fueled rumors that Paterno’s statue outside Beaver Stadium would be removed, or that the Paterno name would be removed from the campus library to which the Paterno family had donated millions to help build.
“At some appropriate time down the road, I’m sure there will be an opportunity to also reflect on the many years of service Joe and (wife Sue Paterno) provided the university and the many good things that they’ve done for Penn State,” Erickson said, eliciting brief applause.
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