When fraternity brothers attempted a cover-up of the facts, the security cameras installed revealed the true story of what happened on the tragic night of the hazing death of a Penn State fraternity pledge. With increased surveillance we can help not only solve more crimes but aim to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Penn State sophomore Tim Piazza spent his final hours dragging his bruised and bloodied body across a beer-soaked fraternity house floor, stumbling down stairs into iron railings, and lying drunk and unconscious as head injuries and internal bleeding slowly sapped his life away. All the while, fraternity brothers did little to help him.
They stepped over his body. They slapped, hit, and doused him with water, hoping to rouse him. One, sitting on a couch nearby, documented his struggles for Snapchat.
No one called 911.
Those disturbing scenes – caught on security camera footage and described in agonizing, minute-by-minute detail in a grand jury presentment released Friday – now form the backbone of prosecutors’ case against the 18 members of Pennsylvania State University’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity, charged with complicity in Piazza’s death.
Though the recording does not show the 19-year-old pledge’s fatal falls down a flight of fraternity house steps during a Feb. 2 pledge initiation ritual just off campus, its depictions of the aftermath may be the most crucial piece of evidence in one of the largest hazing prosecutions in the nation’s history.
“It’s unusual to have a crime captured from beginning to end,” said Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller at a news conference announcing the charges last week.
The footage described in the presentment lays out a harrowing account of Piazza’s final hours starting just after 9 p.m., when the fresh-faced sophomore arrived at the fraternity house for what was expected to be one of the final hurdles he would face before being granted full membership as a Beta Theta Pi brother.
Dressed in a blazer, a buttoned-down shirt and khakis, Piazza and the 13 other pledges expected to participate in a hazing ritual known as “the Gauntlet.” One member would later testify that pledges guzzled vodka, shotgunned beers, drank from wine bags, and played multiple rounds of beer pong at a series of alcohol stations, where they downed four to five drinks in two-minute spans.
By 10:30 p.m., Piazza was clearly drunk. According to the presentment, security footage shows at least two other fraternity members trying to assist him as he staggered through the rooms of the house. He stumbled out of the camera’s sightline, but moments later cameras captured another fraternity member pointing agitatedly toward the basement stairs.
The next time Piazza is seen on the footage, the grand jury said, four young men had dragged his limp form back up the stairs, stripped off his shirt, and placed him on a nearby couch. With his head hanging low and his eyes closed, Piazza appeared unconscious and unmoving, a livid bruise growing on his side.
A debate quickly broke out about what to do. Some members sought to wake Piazza by pouring water over his face. Others sat on his legs to prevent him from rolling over, or slapped him, fearing he might lapse into a coma. Even as they argued over the drunk pledge, the presentment reports, another young man could be seen in the background of the video falling down a flight of three stairs.
But nearly a half-hour after Piazza’s fall, Kordel Davis, a newly initiated fraternity member, had had enough. Security footage described in the presentment shows him growing increasingly agitated in his discussions with his fraternity brothers.
He would later testify before the grand jury that he insisted that Piazza needed immediate medical attention. He screamed for someone to call 911, but the others shouted him down.
“In response, [member] Jonah Neuman rose from the couch, shoved Davis into an opposite wall and instructed [him] to leave,” the presentment states.
Davis turned elsewhere for help, but fraternity vice president Ed Gilmartin allegedly told him that he was crazy and that his opinion meant little against those of fraternity members majoring in kinesiology or biology.
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