Parallel Criminal & Civil Cases Likely in Penn State Fraternity Pledge’s Death

Parallel Criminal & Civil

In February, Timothy Piazza, a 19-year old Penn State University student died after collapsing down a staircase at a fraternity party while heavily intoxicated. Eighteen members of Beta Theta Pi have been charged criminally in connection with the death, following participation in a drinking game. The authorities were not notified for 12 hours. Piazaa’s family retained a Philadelphia-based attorney for a civil suit, which may be pursued parallel to the criminal case. So far there had been conflicting accounts of what is presumed to be a result of “hazing”.

Pennsylvania’s 1986 Hazing Act Statute defines hazing as: acts that are reckless or intentional and pose danger to the physical or emotional health of others for purposes related to being initiated or admitted as a member of a group. Some of the provisions in this Act include:

  • Each institution must put polices in writing which prohibit hazing. This must be publicly posted, added to their website, and provided to all coaches of sports.
  • Penalties (in addition to criminal charges) may include fines, probation, suspension and expulsion.
  • Last month, the Governor signed an additional measure to expand these policies down to the 7th grade level.

Hazing Problems Nationwide

Penn State’s President has condemned these actions. Susan Stone, an attorney in neighboring Ohio, says that almost ½ of students involved in college organizations have experienced some form of hazing—most go unreported. In Ohio, Section 2903 of the Revised Code assesses civil liability to universities and their administrators for failures to take action in these matters. Most universities in the state claim have adopted a zero tolerance policy.

Colorado Hazing Legislation

There are two Colorado Statutes addressing hazing. C.R.S 18-9-124 explains the dangers of such behavior in student organizations and mentions three types:

  • Enforced and extended physical activity
  • Forcing one to consume food, liquids or substances in an excess quantity or consumption of something not designated for humans to consume.
  • Forcing one to be severely deprived of sleep or basic needs such as food

C.R.S. 23-20-112 states that institutions of learning may implement policies and rules needed to reasonably maintain order and self-control. The prohibition of hazing is not an inappropriate limitation of constitutional freedom or assembly. Students should conduct themselves in a manner that reflects well on the school.

Recent Colorado High School Incident

This year at Chaparral High School in Parker, CO, wrestling team coach Rocky Johnson was terminated as a result of team hazing activity. The firing was attributed to a video showing a freshman doing “sit-ups” while blindfolded as others were exposing themselves in the vicinity. A parent of another team member recorded this unacceptable activity according to the Douglas County District Public Information Office.

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