More are charged in haz­ing, coverup

Video was deleted


PHILADEL­PHIA — Prose­cu­tors on Mon­day charged five more Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity fra­ter­nity mem­bers, in­clud­ing a Scran­ton man, with felonies in con­nec­tion with fra­ter­nity pledge Tim Pi­azza’s haz­ing death, af­ter re­cov­er­ing footage they say had been deleted from a frat house se­cu­rity cam­era.

Ryan Burke, 21, of Scran­ton, is charged with in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, ag­gra­vated as­sault, sim­ple as­sault, reck­lessly en­dan­ger­ing an­other per­son, haz­ing, fur­nish­ing al­co­hol to mi­nors and un­law­ful acts rel­a­tive to liquor.

In ad­di­tion, Cen­tre County District At­tor­ney Stacey Parks Miller said one al­ready charged mem­ber of the nowde­funct Beta Theta Pi fra­ter­nity — Brax­ton Becker, 20, of N is kay una, New York— would face new counts for delet­ing the video in an at­tempt to frus­trate the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We know ex­actly what time it was deleted,” she told re­porters at a news con­fer­ence in Belle­fonte. “It was while po­lice were in the house.”

That miss­ing video had be­dev­iled in­ves­ti­ga­tors since early in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. FBI an­a­lysts were fi­nally able to re­cover it from the hard drive on which it had been stored, Parks Miller said.

It de­picts more fra­ter­nity mem­bers par­tic­i­pat­ing in a booze-fu­eled ini­ti­a­tion rit­ual known as The Gaunt­let, in­clud­ing a beer pong sta­tion where Pi­azza was handed beer af­ter beer to shot­gun

with other mem­bers of his pledge class.

“Ev­ery drink con­sumed was pro­vided to him by a fra­ter­nity brother,” Parks Miller said. “Based on the video, Tim Pi­azza was fur­nished with at least 18 drinks in 1 hour and 22 min­utes.”

Parks Miller an­nounced new charges against 12 men at a press con­fer­ence Mon­day.

In ad­di­tion to those charged with in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and ag­gra­vated as­sault on Mon­day, Parks Miller filed mis­de­meanor haz­ing cases against an ad­di­tional six fra­ter­nity mem­bers and added new counts to the cases against many of the 14 al­ready charged.

As the district at­tor­ney de­scribed that scene, Pi­azza’s par­ents stood by shak­ing their heads. Later, the pledge’ s fa­ther—James Pi­azza—thanked Parks Miller and the State Col­lege po­lice for their con­tin­ued pur­suit of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Haz­ing is il­le­gal and jus­tice needs to be served,” he said. “It’s time to man up, fel­las, and face ac­count­abil­ity for your ac­tions.”

Since his death in Fe­bru­ary, the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing Pi­azza’ s fi­nal hours have roiled the univer­sity and its Greek sys­tem. Footage ob­tained from else­wherein the fra­ter­nity house helped Parks Miller’s build the case and chronic led the har­row­ing last hours of the sopho­more en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent from New Jer­sey as he drunk­enly stum­bled into walls, passed out for hours and re­peat­edly fell down a flight of base­ment stairs.

All the while, the footage shows, other fra­ter­nity mem­bers ei­ther ig­nored or jok­ingly beat and slapped the en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent with none call­ing for help un­til late the next morn­ing. Pi­azza died a day later. But the case has prompted back­lash from the charged Beta Theta Pi mem­bers and their lawyers, who con­tend their clients never in­tended to harm Pi­azza. They have ac­cused Parks Miller of over­reach­ing in one of the largest haz­ing-re­lated pros­e­cu­tions in the na­tion’s his­tory — and man­aged to con­vince a Cen­tre County mag­is­trate judge with the same ar­gu­ments.

In Septem­ber, Judge Allen Sin­clair gut­ted the pros­e­cu­tion’s case, throw­ing out the most se­ri­ous felony charges against the fra­ter­nity mem­bers and say­ing prose­cu­tors had not pre­sented enough ev­i­dence to sup­port them.

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