More charges filed in PSU frat death

FBI able to re­store deleted se­cu­rity video

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front page - By Bill Schack­ner

Au­thor­i­ties have filed new charges — in­clud­ing in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter — against pre­vi­ously un­charged in­di­vid­u­als in the death of Penn State Univer­sity sopho­more Ti­mothy Pi­azza, based on re­cov­ery of deleted video in the Beta Theta Pi fra­ter­nity house.

Cen­tre County District At­tor­ney Stacy Parks Miller an­nounced those charges at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day and said at least one fra­ter­nity mem­ber had been ac­cused in con­nec­tion with delet­ing the video.

In all, 12 pre­vi­ously un­charged fra­ter­nity brothers are ac­cused of crim­i­nal of­fenses, and five of those sus­pects face a count of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, the district at­tor­ney said. Five oth­ers al­ready ac­cused in the case that gen­er­ated na­tional at­ten­tion now face ad­di­tional charges, she said.

The sur­veil­lance footage

from the house’s base­ment pro­vided in­ves­ti­ga­tors with pre­vi­ously un­seen images from Feb. 2, the night Mr. Pi­azza, 19, a pledge, was sub­jected to a haz­ing rit­ual called “the gaunt­let” and was given a large num­ber of al­co­holic drinks, as were other pledges, au­thor­i­ties said.

Orig­i­nally, in­ves­ti­ga­tors were led by fra­ter­nity brothers to be­lieve base­ment cam­eras in the house just off the Univer­sity Park cam­pus in State Col­lege were not op­er­a­ble on bid ac­cep­tance night, when Mr. Pi­azza and 13 other pledges as­sem­bled at the house.

State Col­lege po­lice sub­se­quently “un­cov­ered ev­i­dence that the base­ment cam­era footage had ac­tu­ally been man­u­ally deleted just as State Col­lege Po­lice were poised to take pos­ses­sion of the record­ing equip­ment,” ac­cord­ing to the district at­tor­ney.

Po­lice turned to the FBI, which was able to re­cover the miss­ing video.

It shows brothers “fur­nish­ing beer to the pledges at the beer pong gaunt­let sta­tion and im­me­di­ately there­after hand­ing them beers to per­form another shot­gun to­gether as a pledge class,” ac­cord­ing to the district at­tor­ney.

It said the video shows that fra­ter­nity brothers re­quired the pledges to drink wine, beer and vodka.

“In fact, on video, Tim Pi­azza does not ob­tain his own al­co­hol at any point. .. rather, every drink con­sumed was pro­vided to him by a fra­ter­nity brother.”

Speak­ing to re­porters Mon­day, Ms. Parks Miller said au­thor­i­ties now be­lieve that over the span of an hour and 22 min­utes, Mr. Pi­azza was given18 al­co­holic drinks.

“He never once ob­tained his own al­co­hol,” she said.

“Peo­ple had asked us be­fore ‘Why would some­one delete [that] video,” Ms. Parks Miller said.

What she de­scribed as crim­i­nal acts de­picted on the miss­ing footage ap­par­ently an­swered that ques­tion. “Now we know,” she said.

Ti­mothy’s par­ents, Jim and Evelyn, were at Mon­day’s news con­fer­ence. Later, their at­tor­ney, Tom Kline, called the re­cov­ered video “a very big de­vel­op­ment” in the case and to the par­ents, “a very im­por­tant piece of ev­i­dence in their search for truth.”

“The Pi­az­zas be­lieve it is im­por­tant for Penn State to re­lease the re­sults of the dis­ci­pline,” Mr. Kline said.

While fed­eral stu­dent pri­vacy law does not man­date it, he said, it also does not for­bid it.

“They want to know who was dis­ci­plined and for what,” in­clud­ing those “who just up and left” cam­pus be­fore dis­ci­pline could be meted out.

Mr. Kline said he had not seen the video but be­lieves, in ad­di­tion to show­ing al­co­hol be­ing fur­nished, it also shows “a so-called so­cial event that took place af­ter the gaunt­let haz­ing.”

It also re­vealed Mr. Pi­azza “as he strug­gled in the base­ment af­ter fall­ing down the stairs a sec­ond time.”

The univer­sity is­sued a state­ment Mon­day af­ter­noon about the lat­est charges.

“Our hearts con­tinue to break for the an­guish be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by the Pi­azza fam­ily, as this shock­ing and sad story con­tin­ues to un­fold. Stu­dent safety is our pri­or­ity, and we will con­tinue to hold ac­count­able those who are found to have put the well-be­ing of oth­ers in jeop­ardy.

“The Penn State Of­fice of Stu­dent Con­duct has com­pleted the stu­dent con­duct investigation and dis­ci­plinary process for 32 in­di­vid­u­als re­lated to the tragic death of Ti­mothy Pi­azza at the now­banned Beta Theta Pi fra­ter­nity. The Univer­sity will pro­ceed with ad­di­tional stu­dent con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions, through a process sep­a­rate and dis­tinct from the crim­i­nal process, as ap­pro­pri­ate, based on these new charges,” thes­tate­ment read.

A grand jury pre­sent­ment re­leased in May de­tailed the ag­o­niz­ing fi­nal hours of Mr. Pi­azza, an engi­neer­ing stu­dent from Le­banon, N.J., who was not trans­ported by am­bu­lance for 12 hours af­ter he col­lapsed in early Fe­bru­ary. He later died at Her­shey Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Ini­tially, 18 fra­ter­nity mem­bers were charged. But in Septem­ber, af­ter a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing span­ning mul­ti­ple days, a judge dis­missed the most se­ri­ous charges in­clud­ing in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter.

Ms. Parks Miller re­filed the charges in Oc­to­ber, and is as­sert­ing er­ror in law in the judge’s dis­missal, she said dur­ing the news con­fer­ence.

The death fur­ther fu­eled a na­tional dis­cus­sion about haz­ing and what col­leges are and are not do­ing to keep stu­dents on their cam­puses safe.

The death oc­curred amid on­go­ing at­tempts by Penn State to curb al­co­hol abuse, sex­ual mis­con­duct and other prob­lems within the Greek Life com­mu­nity of some 80 or­ga­ni­za­tions at Penn State. The school has fur­ther cracked down and ear­lier this month an­nounced dis­ci­plinary ac­tions against stu­dents in the case.

Of 32 stu­dents that faced dis­ci­pline, more than half have left the cam­pus.

Penn State ju­di­cial of­fi­cials handed down pun­ish­ments rang­ing from pro­ba­tion to ex­pul­sion against seven of the in­di­vid­u­als. How­ever, 19 oth­ers with­drew from cam­pus prior to com­ple­tion of the process, and should they reap­ply to Penn State, a no­ta­tion on their tran­script states they must first com­plete the dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings, of­fi­cials said.

Six oth­ers en­tered stu­dent con­duct con­fer­ences and were not charged with any vi­o­la­tions of the stu­dent honor code.

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