Death of Tim Piazza

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Timothy John Piazza (September 25, 1997[1] – February 4, 2017) died as the result of a hazing two days earlier at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, Pennsylvania. The incident led to closure of the fraternity's chapter at the university and, as of November 14, 2017, at least 26 members of the fraternity face charges, including involuntary manslaughter.[2]

Hazing incident[edit]

Piazza was a 19-year-old sophomore engineering student at Pennsylvania State University. He was a pledge of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the university. On the night of February 2, 2017, while undergoing hazing rituals for the fraternity, Piazza, on an essentially empty stomach, drank large amounts of alcohol in a short time as part of an obstacle course called "The Gauntlet", which required each pledge to drink from a bottle of vodka, drink a beer, and finally drink from a bag of wine. It later was revealed that Piazza took prescription anti-depressants, which contributed to his inebriation. The fraternity was supposed to be alcohol-free after a suspension in 2009.[2]

In this state of intoxication, he fell on the basement stairs of the house and was knocked unconscious. He was carried to a couch, where surveillance cameras captured the formation of a large and obvious bruise on his left abdomen. One fraternity member tried to convince the others that Piazza needed immediate medical help, but was ignored.

Some time later, Piazza regained consciousness and rolled off the couch. Three brothers picked him up and "slammed" him back onto the couch. Security footage shows brothers slapping Piazza in the face, punching him in the stomach, and pouring beer on him, but he remained unconscious and unresponsive. He rolled off the couch again and curled his body, clutching his abdomen.

In the early morning of February 3, 2017, Piazza tried to get up, but once he reached a standing position, fell backwards. He continued to stand up only to repeatedly fall back down. Once he was finally able to maintain balance, he staggered toward the lobby area of the house, but fell again head first into an iron railing and landed on a stone floor, likely incurring serious head trauma. He got up and tried to reach the front door but fell head first into it, knocking himself unconscious again. He later tried once more to descend the basement stairs, but fell down again, and remained at the base of the stairs until several of the fraternity brothers discovered him several hours later behind the bar in the basement, cold and breathing rapidly.

It was at this point that he was carried upstairs. After 40 minutes of debating on what the next step should be, the conclusion was made that Piazza's injuries were indeed serious, and that he would require medical attention. Before emergency assistance arrived, the brothers wiped blood from his face and attempted to dress him, but his body was too rigid to successfully put clothes on. Roughly twelve hours after his initial fall, emergency services were summoned but not informed that the fall had occurred the night before. Piazza was brought to Mount Nittany Medical Center, but was quickly transported to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center because of the severity of his injuries.

Upon arrival, Piazza was rushed into surgery, where he was discovered to have a ruptured spleen and class IV hemorrhagic shock. His brain had swollen to the point that roughly half of his skull had to be removed to relieve the pressure. The surgeons attempting to save his life deemed the injuries to likely be nonrecoverable, and Piazza was pronounced dead in the early morning of February 4, 2017. He is estimated to have had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of nearly .40 on the night of the hazing incident.[3]

Criminal prosecutions[edit]

The Piazza case resulted in one of the largest hazing prosecutions in US history.[4] On May 5, 2017, following a grand jury investigation, eighteen members of the fraternity were charged in connection with Piazza's death: eight were charged with involuntary manslaughter and the rest with other offenses, including hazing.

In addition to the fraternity brothers, the Beta Theta Pi fraternity itself was also charged. Its Penn State fraternity branch was closed after its president ordered it banned from campus indefinitely. As of September 2017, the fraternity and its eighteen members faced a combined total of more than 850 criminal charges.[5]

Alleged perpetrators[edit]

Prosecutors have filed the following charges in relation to this crime and its cover-up:[6],[7]

  • Daniel Casey (age 19): 201 counts, including involuntary manslaughter; charges reduced to reckless endangerment, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Brendan Young (age 21): 200 counts, including involuntary manslaughter; charges reduced to reckless endangerment, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Jonah Neuman (age 19): 79 counts, including involuntary manslaughter; charges reduced to reckless endangerment, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Nick Kubera (age 19): more than 50 counts, including involuntary manslaughter; charges reduced to hazing and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Craig Heimer (age 21): 52 counts, including reckless endangerment; charges reduced to furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Lars Kenyon (age 19): 52 counts, including reckless endangerment; charges reduced to furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Michael Schiavone (age 21): 52 counts, including reckless endangerment; charges reduced to hazing and furnishing alcohol
  • Ryan Foster (age 21): one count of tampering with evidence
  • Edward Gilmartin (age 20): one count of tampering with evidence

Tampering with evidence and endangerment charges have also been dismissed against three other students, Joseph Ems,[8] Ryan McCann, and Lucas Rockwell.

On November 14, 2017, ten more members were charged in connection with Piazza's death. The new charges were filed after the Centre County District Attorney announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had recovered video showing that Piazza had been given at least 18 drinks in an 82-minute span, and that the video had been intentionally deleted.[2] The additional defendants are:[9]

  • Joshua Kurczewski (age 19): eight counts; including involuntary manslaughter, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Ryan Burke (age 21): eight counts; including involuntary manslaughter, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor; pleaded guilty on June 13, 2018
  • Jonathan Kanzler (age 19): eight counts; including involuntary manslaughter, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Aiden O'Brien: eight counts; including involuntary manslaughter, hazing, and furnishing alcohol to a minor
  • Brian Gelb: three counts; including hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
  • Patrick Jackson: three counts; including hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
  • Reggie Goeke: three counts; including hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
  • Mike Fernandez: three counts; including hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
  • Donald Prior: three counts; including hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor

Ems (age 19) now has additional charges against him—hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and unlawful acts relative to liquor. Braxton Becker (age 20), who had the charge of tampering with evidence dropped against him, was charged with it again after new footage discovered he deleted the footage that lead to these new charges. Becker was also charged with obstructing administration of law and hindering apprehension.[9] As of November 14, 2017, at least 26 members face charges.[2]

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Beta Theta Pi - Alpha Upsilon et al.[edit]

On August 11, 2017, on the fifth day of the preliminary hearing, it was announced by lead investigators that basement footage from the bid acceptance on February 2, 2017, had in fact been deleted by a defendant already charged in the case. Lead prosecutor Stacy Parks Miller noted that additional charges would be filed as a result of this finding.[10]

That same day, defense attorneys for a number of the defendants started to put blame on Tim Bream, the Penn State Nittany Lions football head athletic trainer and Beta Theta Pi live-in advisor. He was present during the night of Tim Piazza's bid acceptance, although he has never been charged in the case. After unsuccessful attempts by attorneys to have Bream subpoenaed, the judge in the case ordered that Bream have his own hearing on possible contempt of court and avoiding his subpoena.[11]

Guilty plea[edit]

One of the fraternity brothers charged in the death of Piazza pleaded guilty on June 13, 2018, to nine charges, making him the first in the case to enter a guilty plea. Ryan Burke, age 21, pleaded guilty to four counts of hazing and five counts relating to unlawful acts involving liquor in the deadly injuries Piazza sustained following a night of heavy drinking and hazing. Burke was accused of giving Piazza a bottle of vodka at the Beta Theta Pi party. Burke admitted his role in the hazing of Piazza, which included being present for and actively encouraging a gauntlet of drinking games and an obstacle course involving Piazza and other pledges.[12]

On July 31, 2018, Burke was sentenced to three months of house arrest for his role in the hazing death of Piazza. He pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor charges, including four counts of hazing and five counts involving unlawful acts related to alcoholic beverages. In addition to the house arrest, Burke was sentenced to 27 months of probation and was ordered to pay fines, costs, and restitution.[13]

The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law[edit]

On March 27, 2018, "The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law" was unanimously approved by the Pennsylvania State Senate Judiciary Committee. Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (Republican, Benner Township) and Piazza's parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, introduced the bill on March 23, 2018, at the courthouse in Bellefonte.

The bill would create tiers for hazing. Hazing resulting in serious bodily injury or death would be a third-degree felony, which could include fines of up to $15,000 and imprisonment up to seven years. Hazing resulting in bodily injury would be a third-degree misdemeanor, which could include fines of up to $2,500 and imprisonment up to one year. Other hazing would be a summary offense. The bill would also establish "organizational" and "institutional" hazing categories.

"The bill has been carefully crafted because we want this to be a model for changing anti-hazing laws nationwide," Corman said. "My intent with this legislation is clear – to prevent death or serious injury due to hazing so that families, such as Tim's, never experience tragedies like this ever again."

The anti-hazing legislation was subsequently submitted for consideration in the full state Senate.[14]

On April 18, 2018, the Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed the bill, which would make hazing in fraternities a third-degree felony in cases of serious injury or death, and could allow universities to seize offending Greek organizations' houses.

The law is sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader and 34th Senatorial District Rep. Jake Corman, who worked with Tim Piazza's family to create the bill. It defines hazing as coercing an individual to participate in any illegal activity in order to join a social group, including the use of drugs and alcohol to inflict physical or emotional harm or the use of other forces such as "whipping, beating ... or extreme embarrassment".

Lawmakers named the anti-hazing legislation after Timothy Piazza.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Timothy John Piazza
  2. ^ a b c d CNN, Sara Ganim,. "Recovered video leads to new charges in Penn State fraternity death". CNN. Retrieved 2017-11-14. 
  3. ^ Miller, Stacy Parks (5 May 2017). Notice 11 FINAL Charges and Presentment. Bellefonte, PA: Office of the District Attorney, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. pp. 37–61. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  4. ^ "Students charged with manslaughter in Penn State frat death". Retrieved 11 September 2017. 
  5. ^ Hanson, Hilary (May 6, 2017). "Fraternity And Members Face Hundreds Of Charges In Timothy Piazza Hazing Death". Retrieved September 11, 2017 – via Huff Post. 
  6. ^ "List of 18 defendants, charges in Penn State hazing death". Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Parents of pledge watch as frat boys charged in death laugh at trial". Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  8. ^ News, A. B. C. (September 1, 2017). "Former Penn State frat member no longer charged in hazing case: 'No winners here'". ABC News. Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b http://www.philly.com/archive/jeremy_roebuck/penn-state-hazing-death-piazza-case-new-details-20171113.html
  10. ^ Gajilan, Sara Ganim, Carolyn Sung, and A. Chris. "Video of Penn State Beta Theta Pi incident was deleted, officer testifies". Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  11. ^ "PSU hazing judge orders trainer Bream to court". Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  12. ^ Penn State ex-frat brother makes first guilty plea in hazing death of 19-year-old pledge
  13. ^ Ex-Penn State Fraternity Member Sentenced to House Arrest in Hazing Death
  14. ^ Tim Piazza anti-hazing law unanimously approved by Pa. Senate committee
  15. ^ Pennsylvania Senate passes anti-hazing law

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