HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A lawyer who is advising some of those who reported being sexually abused by a former Penn State assistant football coach said he is worried that people angry about Joe Paterno’s firing could turn them into scapegoats for the longtime coach’s sudden departure.
Harrisburg attorney Ben Andreozzi said Thursday that he believes the university trustees did not consult with the victims before replacing the 84-year-old Paterno late Wednesday, a decision that prompted angry students to gather in downtown State College shouting support for the coach and tipping over a news van.
“These sexual assault victims are now watching people parade and riot around the streets,” he said. “Now you have a football institution crumbling, and to think that is not in some way going to impact these victims is naive.”
Andreozzi, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, said he has been working to provide therapy to some of the victims, but stopped short of saying he represents them in any potential civil matters.
“I don’t want to go there, because there’s a criminal investigation going on,” he said. “It would be premature to comment on a civil lawsuit until the criminal process is played out.”
Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested Saturday on 40 criminal counts and accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period — some on Penn State’s campus. Two school administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, stepped down after being charged with not properly reporting suspected child abuse and lying to a grand jury. Through their lawyers, all three men have said they are innocent.
On Wednesday, Paterno announced plans to retire at the end of the season, but several hours later Penn State’s board of trustees fired him and announced that president Graham Spanier was also out of a job.
“My biggest concern is, it’s not necessarily the decision,” Andreozzi said. “Don’t you think these victims deserve some input or consideration in what happened?”
As of late Thursday morning, the attorney said he had not spoken to the people he is advising about the departures but has talked to them as the story has unfolded in recent days. He declined to say how many people he is advising in the matter. None of the victims cited in the criminal charges has been publicly identified.
“I think it’s fair to say the school could have anticipated the negative response from the students,” he said. “And the victims may have associated that negative response as siding with certain people in this case and not siding with them.”
There has been considerable speculation about potential lawsuits in the wake of the allegations, which include charges Sandusky molested children in the Penn State football team’s facilities.
“I’m not going to deny that a civil issue could arise from what’s happened,” Andreozzi said. “However, it’s premature to discuss that.”
Spanier’s replacement, interim president Rodney Erickson, issued a statement Thursday that called this one of the saddest weeks in the school’s history. He referred to those who were abused in the first paragraph.
“As a member of the Penn State community for 34 years, as a parent, and as a grandfather, I find the charges as they have been described to be devastating, and my heart goes out to those who have been victimized and their families,” Erickson said.
An emailed message sent to a Penn State spokeswoman seeking reaction to Andreozzi’s comments was not immediately returned.
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