New charges have been filed in the death of a Pennsylvania State University student after video from a basement security camera was recovered by law enforcement officers.
Fraternity brothers led police to believe the basement cameras weren’t working on bid acceptance night, according to Centre County, Pa., District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who announced additional charges against 17 defendants Monday. But State College police found evidence that the basement camera footage had been manually deleted just as officers were about to seize the recording equipment, she said.
FBI agents were able to recover video from the deleted hard drive, which showed the fraternity members requiring pledges to drink beer, wine and vodka in the basement, prosecutors said.
Timothy Piazza did not get his own drink at any point, they said, but based on the video, he was given at least 18 drinks in less than an hour and a half.
Five of the former fraternity members face involuntary manslaughter charges, and a total of 17 face charges including hazing and tampering with evidence.
Many of the charges the district attorney brought earlier this year had been dismissed, and one lawyer said he was outraged that his client would have to defend himself again.
Piazza was 19 in February when he died after a party for students who had accepted bids to join the school’s Beta Theta Pi chapter. After drinking excessively that night, Piazza fell down a flight of stairs, but no one called for help for almost 12 hours, police said. When police found him unconscious the next morning, they took him to a hospital.
His death prompted calls to change Greek life culture and stop hazing and alcohol abuse on campuses nationally, and drove an attempt to overhaul fraternity rules at the flagship state campus, which banned the chapter and implemented stricter rules on parties and greater oversight of the social groups.
William J. Brennan, an attorney for one of the defendants, Joseph Ems, who was charged with hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor, said, “I spent the summer successfully defending my client against charges that should never have been brought in the first place. I can’t imagine if there was evidence of hazing the DA didn’t have it when she brought the initial charge. This reeks of malicious prosecution at this point.
“Not every tragedy is a crime,” he added. “While I have tremendous empathy for the Piazza family and pray for them every single day as a man and as a father, as a lawyer, I’m outraged that this DA would charge my client again.”
Thomas R. Kline, an attorney for the Piazza family, said in an email, “The charges against Mr. Brennan’s client are new charges with a new basis on new evidence which apparently is the product of the basement tapes retrieved by the FBI — not the old charges which were dismissed and not re-filed.”
Jim and Evelyn Piazza released a statement Monday saying they would have been eagerly anticipating their son’s return for Thanksgiving break if not for the actions of the former fraternity members.
“Tim was a happy and caring human being and a wonderful son who just wanted to join an organization to find friendships and camaraderie. Instead he was killed at the hands of those he was seeking friendship from. We have spent the past eight months wondering — how can this happen on the campus of Penn State? The visions of him lying in a hospital bed, battered and bruised, and on life support, looking as if he got hit by a tractor trailer make no sense.”