More charges filed in PSU frat death
FBI able to restore deleted security video
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.