In Review: Beta Theta Pi Charges, Grand Jury Presentment, And University Reactions
The findings and ensuing charges of a months-long investigation into the death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza was finally released. Piazza died February 4 at Hershey Medical Center from injuries sustained at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on campus. A number of students were charged on Friday, May 5, after the grand jury report was released. Multiple involved parties, including IFC, Penn State, and Beta Theta Pi’s national chapter, reacted to the charges and announced plans going forward following this tragedy.
Here’s a rundown of Friday’s events:
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called a press conference at 10 a.m. on Friday to announce that, at the recommendation of a grand jury report, 18 brothers, as well as the fraternity itself, were charged in the death of Timothy Piazza.
- Beta Theta Pi: involuntary manslaughter, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
- Brendan Young, Daniel Casey, Jonah Neuman, Nick Kubera, Michael Bonatucci, Gary Dibileo, Luke Visser, and Joe Sala: involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, and unlawful acts relative to liquor (other charges brought against certain, but not all, individuals include consumption of alcohol by a minor, tampering with evidence, and disorderly conduct)
- Michael Angelo Schiavone, Craig Heimer, Lars Kenyon, and Parker Jax Yochim: recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, and unlawful acts relative to liquor
- Ed Gilmartin, Ryan McCann, Lucas Rockwell, Braxton Becker, and Ryan Foster: tampering with evidence
- Joseph Ems: recklessly endangering another person
- Involuntary Manslaughter: misdemeanor in the first degree — carries a punishment of up to five years imprisonment if convicted and no more than $10,000 in fines
- Aggravated Assault: felony in the first degree — carries a punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted
- Simple Assault: misdemeanor of the second degree — carries a punishment of up to five years imprisonment if convicted
- Tampering With Evidence: misdemeanor of the second degree — carries a maximum sentence of up to two years imprisonment and no more than $5,000 in fines if convicted
- Recklessly Endangering Another Person: misdemeanor of the second degree — carries a maximum sentence of up to two years imprisonment and no more than $5,000 in fines if convicted
- Hazing: misdemeanor of the third degree — carries a maximum sentence of not more than one year imprisonment and not less than $1,000 in fines
- Furnishing Alcohol To Minors: misdemeanor of the third degree — carries a maximum penalty of a fine totaling not less than $1,000 for the first offense along with a $2,500 fine with each “subsequent violation”
- Unlawful Acts Relative To Liquor: misdemeanor
With the release of the grand jury report, the findings behind the investigation that launched these charges were revealed.
Piazza fell down the flight of steps several times during bid acceptance night. The timeline of this entire night was listed, which included hazing in the form of excessive drinking that led Piazza to have a blood alcohol level of nearly .40 — five times the legal limit.
Bid acceptance night had similar rituals for several years, according to the investigation.
“This fraternity…had been doing these same pledging rituals for years,” Parks Miller said. “The grand jury discovered other hazing — paddling, eating all kinds of mushed food, all kinds of rituals that this fraternity engaged in over a number of years.”
Throughout the night, Piazza fell and showed several other signs of impairment, but the brothers didn’t call for help until the next morning — with one brother getting rebuffed for suggesting to call for help approximately 11 hours earlier.
Instead of dialing 911, the grand jury report said the brothers carried Piazza’s unconscious body throughout the house, poured liquid on and slapped Piazza’s face, and hit him in the abdomen, among other things in attempt to get a response.
Multiple brothers witnessed or had some sort of contact in between the 12 hours from when Piazza originally fell to when 911 was called.
The report issued a scathing review of the culture Greek Life has fostered at the school because of permissive behaviors from the university administration and Penn State IFC.
“The grand jury concludes that the death of Timothy Piazza was not a result of isolated conduct or a simple mistake (i.e. negligence). Rather, the grand jury concludes that Timothy Piazza died as a direct result of the extremely reckless conduct of the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity who operated within the permissive atmosphere fostered by the Pennsylvania State University Interfraternity Council,” the presentment reads.
The grand jury determined it would compile a full report on the conduct of Penn State’s Interfraternity Council and the university as a result of the findings from this investigation.
Assistant Athletic Director and football trainer Tim Bream was not named in the grand jury presentment, although it’s widely believed he was in the house on the night of the events.
Parks Miller said that there is no evidence that he had any knowledge of Piazza’s injuries, therefore he is not criminally responsible in this case.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza spoke of bringing changes to both Penn State Greek Life, and Greek Life at other schools, following Parks Miller’s original presentment at the press conference.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Jim Piazza said. “This is the result of a feeling of entitlement, blatant disobedience of the law, and disregard for moral values, that has been exacerbated by egregious acts for self-preservation.”
Penn State, IFC, And Beta Theta Pi Release Statements
Each of the three entities released its statements on the findings of the grand jury presentment and the ensuing charges.
Penn State responded to the grand jury’s assertions that it fostered a permissive atmosphere that allowed this death to happen and the potential full report on the university’s involvement in the case.
“Penn State has one of the most aggressive student misconduct policies in the country, and its off-campus policy pertaining to misconduct remains the most vigorous in the Big Ten,” the statement reads. “It should go without saying that hazing and dangerous drinking are not permitted by the university, and the university takes appropriate action to educate its students about these issues and to hold them accountable whenever it learns of such wrongdoing.”
The Interfraternity Council, which also fostered a permissive atmosphere according to the grand jury report, announced in its statement that it eyes changes in future years to alter the culture of Greek Life.
“We are committed to addressing the critical issues in our fraternity community head on,” the statement reads. “We have formed stakeholder working groups tasked with developing increased community standards and enhancing student safety. The best way to shift culture is for students, alumni, and the university to work together.”
Beta Theta Pi’s national chapter issued a statement focused on its continued stance against alcohol misuse and hazing, as well as reaffirming its decision to void Penn State’s chapter.
“As such, and despite the number of accolades bestowed upon the former chapter by the university in recent years, the International Fraternity stands by its decision to suspend and disband the former chapter on February 17, 2017,” the statement reads. “The International Fraternity’s policy that prohibited alcohol in the Penn State chapter house, along with the extensive annual investment in risk management, leadership, and character-development programs that teach young men the importance of integrity and caring for others, underscored the International Fraternity’s expectations of all of its members.”
Penn State President Eric Barron discussed the university’s statement on the tragedy and stance going forward during a press conference prior to 1 p.m. with Penn State Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims (although Sims did not speak).
Barron spoke about the Greek Life regulations, but said there’s not much else the university can do other than impose these rules.
“Short of us sitting in that house — on private property, privately managed — if people are willing to hide that type of behavior and protect that level of secrecy, I do not see how it is that the university will ever know that it’s happening,” Barron said.
Barron also stated that Beta Theta Pi brothers charged will go through the student conduct process regarding additional punishment from the university.
Parks Miller announced during her press conference that some of those charged were scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Others not arraigned on Friday would be early next week.
The eight brothers charged with involuntary manslaughter were released on $100,000 unsecured bail, while two others — Craig Heimer and Parker Jax Yochim — were released on $50,000 unsecured bail.