by Geoff Rushton
The Penn State football head athletic trainer who served as live-in adviser for Beta Theta Pi fraternity said Wednesday he had no role in the drinking activities at the house the night pledge Timothy Piazza suffered a fatal fall.
In fact, he said, the duties of his adviser role didn’t involve him approving or overseeing social activities at all, and that he wasn’t aware whether or not alcohol consumption was taking place that night.
Tim Bream took the stand Wednesday in the ongoing preliminary hearing for former brothers and the Alpha Upsilon chapter of the fraternity who are charged with a variety of crimes in connection with the death of Piazza, who died on Feb. 4 from injuries suffered after falls during an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night at the fraternity house.
Eighteen former members and the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi are facing a variety of charges
Leonard Ambrose — attorney for Joe Sala, one of the brothers charged with the most serious crimes including aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, simple assault and hazing – sought to subpoena Bream earlier in August and contended that a private investigator had adequately served the subpoena to Bream through staff a Penn State’s Lasch Football Building where Bream works and through the university’s general counsel.
He alleged Bream was avoiding being directly served and a contempt hearing was ordered for Wednesday.
The contempt issue was dismissed after Bream appeared and court and took the stand, and District Judge Allen Sinclair limited questioning to issues that could relate prima facie case against the defendants, not about what their impressions might have been of what he thought was going on.
Ambrose said he wanted to show that Bream knew activities involving alcohol were happening in the house and that created an impression in the mind of his client and other defendants that what was going on was permissible and negated the element of recklessness associated with the assault and involuntary manslaughter charges.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller countered that nothing Bream could testify to would negate the defendants alleged culpability
Earlier in August, a defense attorney asked lead investigator Det. David Scicchitano if he was aware Bream had personally approved “the gauntlet,” a series of drinking stations in which Piazza and other pledges consumed beer, wine and vodka in rapid succession.
Scicchitano didn’t answer at the time after an objection was sustained, but Bream was asked about it on Wednesday.
“In no way shape or form would give permission to any type of alcohol abuse or gauntlet, nor did I know about it that evening,” Bream testified.
He said that he has never consumed alcohol himself, partly because his father was an alcoholic, and in his role working with student-athletes cautions temperance and moderation in consuming alcohol.
Bream said his role at the house largely involved making sure the house was taken care of and dealing with finances. He would attend a weekly meeting of the fraternity’s executive and social committees, but only weighed in when asked for advice.
He testified that he knew the brothers planned to apply for a “social permit” from the Penn State Interfraternity Council, which would allow for alcohol and an exception to their “dry house” status, but didn’t know at the time if they had received it.
On the bid acceptance night, Bream said that he arrived home at about 9:15 p.m., shortly before the start of a ceremony in which brothers read from a book to the pledges in a darkened room. That part didn’t involve alcohol and he retired to his room afterward, where he remained until 5 a.m. the following morning.
Surveillance video reportedly showed he didn’t leave his room throughout the night. Asked if he had checked on what was happening in the house throughout the night, he said that wasn’t his role.
“My role was as a person of guidance, not as an overlord or overseer or in charge of discipline,” he said.
Bream later said that the fraternity’s executive officers made decisions about events and day-to-day activities and that they did not have to get approval from him.
He said he left for work the morning of Feb. 3 and testified that as he left through the first floor of the house, he did not see any evidence of alcohol or see Piazza.
Earlier in the hearing, a defense attorney brought up a text message exchange between fraternity vice president Ed Gilmartin — one of the members who waived his hearing on a tampering with evidence charge — and brother Lars Kenyon in which Gilmartin suggests deleting group messages “so people don’t get screenshots or anything that gets leaked to media.”
“Tim’s idea as a precaution,” he concluded.
“Tim” is not identified by last name in the exchange, but Scicchitano testified that Kenyon said he took it to mean Tim Bream.
Ambrose attempted to ask about the exchange and earlier suggested Bream may have been encouraging the brothers to “destroy evidence.” But an objection from Parks Miller was sustained and Bream didn’t have to answer.
Parks Miller argued that the defense was attempting to act as investigator in questioning about the text messages. She said that neither Gilmartin nor Kenyon has come forward to police to suggest a criminal act by Bream.
Bream did say that on the afternoon of Feb. 3, after Piazza was taken to the hospital, he met with approximately 30 members of the fraternity in the house and had grief counselors on hand from Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
Bream said he talked to them about staying off of social media “out of respect” for Piazza, and likened the suggestion to a “a moment of silence.”
Steve Trialonas, the attorney for fraternity pledgemaster Daniel Casey, was permitted to question Bream.
Bream said that before the pledge ceremony took place, he stood on a balcony above the great hall where it took place. Casey briefly joined him and he testified that they spoke about what would take place for the ceremony, but didn’t talk about what would be happening the rest of the night.
Trialonas asked if Bream observed a keg of beer in the area where they where standing and Bream said no. He also said he didn’t recall Casey drinking beer from a cup while they talked.
Bream, a 1983 Penn State graduate and an alumnus of the fraternity who has been the Penn State football trainer since 2012, took the adviser role, which was separate from his university employment, in August 2016. He said that both in the fall of 2016 and prior to the bid acceptance night in 2017, he wasn’t present for any fraternity rush activities that involved alcohol.
In addition to charges stemming from Piazza’s death, some members face charges of hazing and providing alcohol to minors for previous semesters.
The hearing continued with the start of closing arguments. Attorney Frank Fina, representing fraternity president Brendan Young, and Michael Leahey, representing the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi, made their closings before court recessed for lunch.
Two defendants waived their preliminary hearings in June, and 15 attorneys will still have the opportunity for closing remarks
The hearing will continue Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday and Friday have been set aside for its conclusion.