Parents Taking Aim at Hazing

Following the death of Debbie Smith’s son, Matt, the family learned what had happened to him. Since then, they have made documentaries, launched a non-profit, and have been working to change laws to prevent hazing. Susan Snyder with ‘The Inquirer’ reports:

“It puts a bigger face on the story,” said Leslie Lanahan, whose son, Gordie Bailey Jr., the captain of his high school football team, died after an alcohol-saturated fraternity event in 2004 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “I don’t think it has ever gotten the attention it deserves collectively.”

Hazing has been a problem for decades. In a national 2008 study of more than 11,000 college students, 55 percent of those involved in clubs, teams, and organizations said they experienced hazing. Dozens of students have died, including four in 2017.

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MSU Mishandling of Title IX Case

David Mittleman has expressed interest in notifying the State Bar of Michigan over what he feels was a mishandled Title IX investigation after Amanda Thomashow’s complaint. Katie Strang from ‘The Athletic’ reports:


Mittleman cited Moore’s production of two separate reports from the Title IX investigation as the key issue that has prompted his concern. One report was circulated internally, and one was provided to the claimant, the latter of which was missing key elements of the findings. Moore, in an email obtained by The Athletic, dated July 28, 2014, wrote to William Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine:

“Hi Bill, as we discussed, I am forwarding the email (just sent) which provided the report to Dr. Nassar. I also just sent a copy to the claimant, without the substantive text in the conclusion section.”


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Attorney: MSU’s Handling of Title IX Investigation in Nassar Case ‘Appalling’

Photo: The Athletic

A lawyer within Michigan State’s general counsel office is under fire for her role in the Larry Nassar case, particularly for the way she and the university handled a Title IX investigation.

According to court transcripts from last week’s scheduling conference in district court, attorney David Mittleman, whose firm represents more than 70 plaintiffs in the civil litigation pending against Michigan State, registered his dismay in the handling of the Title IX investigation following Amanda Thomashow’s complaint.

One experienced litigator with Title IX expertise, who is not involved in the case, raised doubts that the production of two separate reports in a Title IX investigation would satisfy the aforementioned requirements.

“That doesn’t strike me as equitable when you provide the victim and complainant with some information, but the school with other information,” attorney Monica Beck told The Athletic last week. “That strikes me as not being equitable.”

Read more on The Athletic.

Parents Whose Children Died Take Collective Aim at Hazing

Photo: Courtesy of Leslie Lanahan

Debbie Smith, founder of the non-profit AHA!: Anti Hazing Awareness, will host an inaugural meeting of families who have lost their children to hazing on university campuses all across the nation.

The group plans to strategize on how to accomplish several key goals, including getting better educational programming on hazing in middle and high schools, strengthening state and federal laws on hazing, and changing the culture on college campuses, said Smith, a San Francisco Bay area resident, who uses the initials “MM” after her name for “Matt’s mom.” The parents have invited anti-hazing advocates and college student affairs administrators to speak. There are no plans to raise money, but that could change once a platform is developed, Smith said.

Read more on The Inquirer.

Penn State Frat Hit by Judge’s Statewide Ban in Hazing Case

Pi Delta Psi fraternity faces a 10 year ban from operating any chapters in Pennsylvania.

Doug Fierberg, who has represented many clients in lawsuits against fraternities and is representing the Dengs in multiple civil suits against Pi Delta Psi and its members, also was heartened by the rulings.

“It recognizes that chapters are agents and mere extensions of national fraternities and they are responsible for the injury and death caused across this country for decades,” he said.


Michael Deng Case: Fraternity, Four Men to be Sentenced in Hazing Death

Doug Fierberg, an attorney for Deng’s family, said prosecutors in the Piazza case could learn from the outcome of the Deng case and Pi Delta Psi case sentencing.
“These are two of the higher-profile circumstances involving the prosecution of hazing,” said Fierberg. Prosecutors in the Piazza case, he said, “might as well learn” from the outcome of the Deng case.

Fierberg said he expects the Deng case “will help clarify” some things ahead of the Piazza case and could set “a number of precedents.”

Read more on CNN.


Student dies after visiting delta sigma phi fraternity at California State University – Fresno.

The death of a 19 year old at Fresno State University Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house has sparked a police investigation.

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

The student, whose name is not being released at this time, reportedly lay unconscious on the Delta Sigma Pi fraternity house porch before being taken to St. Agnes hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Fresno Police say by the time they received the medical call for help the young man had passed away. The investigation is ongoing.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol and drug-related student deaths – cautions:  

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

Fierberg, who is regularly featured in The New York Times to discuss the perils of fraternity hazing violence and death explains:

“The central problem is that in a fraternity house, kids, most of who cannot legally drink, are in charge of getting and serving alcohol.”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the friends and family of the victim find answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.


Hazing Report Leads to Sexual Assault Case at Oklahoma High School

Oklahoma High School Officials Waited Eight Days Before Reporting Hazing Sexual Assault of Student Athlete.

Officials at an Bixby High School in Bixby, Oklahoma, failed to promptly report the sexual assault of a 16-year-old football player by several teammates.  Officials started their investigation after hearing of “an alleged hazing incident,” and waited eight days before contacting police, records show.  As reported by the Associate Press:

The Nov. 2 report, released Wednesday by Bixby High School, said the Tulsa-area school’s investigation began Oct. 26. It included interviews with the boy and his mother, who told officials that a teammate had inserted a pool cue into his anus through his shorts.

An affidavit filed last month by investigators provided a fuller account of the assault, which took place in September during a team function at the superintendent’s house. The football player told detectives he was assaulted by one player while three others held him down. Investigators say a fifth player recorded the assault on a cellphone, and another blocked a door, according to the affidavit.

The boy also told investigators in the earlier affidavit that he had been assaulted in a similar manner during a team function at the superintendent’s house in 2016. The Nov. 2 report by the school references “two separate occasions” in which “a hazing incident resulted.”

Authorities have seized the cellphones of several administrators and football players and ordered emails from the superintendent, principal, athletic director and football coach. They said last month that the delay by school officials in reporting the assault may have jeopardized investigators’ ability to recover key evidence.

A search warrant said some school officials may have tried to “not report the incident at all” — which is a misdemeanor offense under Oklahoma law.

Monica Beck, a nationally acclaimed K-12 hazing and sexual assault victims attorney who represents the family of the Ooltewah High School rape victim who was sodomized with a pool cue by teammates  explains in a written statement to the Times Free Press: 

“Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence. This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials.”

Beck filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of the victim stating Ooltewah District Administrators and employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, “and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete’s harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates.”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with hazing and sexual assault, our hope is that all those involved are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law – students seeking to participate in school teams and programs should be protected from hazing and sexual violence;  hazing is not a matter of simple “horseplay,” or validly explained away by the notions that “boys will be boys.”

FSU Among Multiple Universities Working Towards Change Following Student Deaths

Doug Fireberg responds to Florida State University’s ban on campus groups serving alcohol in wake of student Andrew Coffey’s death.

Florida State University is one of at least four schools reeling from incidents this year where students have died due to alcohol, hazing, or both.

Florida State, Penn State, LSU, and now Texas State, have lost a student this year to what some consider a “pervasive problem.”

“At least 18 drinks in one hour and 22 minutes”, stated Stacy Parks Miller, Centre County District Attorney. That was the shocking revelation this week at Penn State, as prosecutors leveled charges against even more members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. All were tied to the night drunken pledge Tim Piazza broke his skull falling down a flight of stairs.

Jim Piazza, the father of Tim, said, “We’re making holiday plans without our son Tim, because of your actions.”

We are still waiting to find out what happened to Florida State student Andrew Coffey. The Pi Kappa Phi pledge was found dead at a house off Buena Vista drive on November 3.

Tallahassee Police Chief Michael Deleo said, “Although there are indications alcohol may have been a factor in this case, we are awaiting the results of an autopsy and no cause of death has been determined.”

One FSU student explained, “It’s a tragedy that happened.” When asked if they were shocked by it, they responded, “No, because fraternity and sorority parties can get a little crazy and out of hand.”

Coffey’s death, and a subsequent drug raid, not only led to the closure of Pi Kappa Phi, but a temporary halt to all Greek activities and a ban on campus groups serving alcohol.

When students were asked about their thoughts on President Thrasher’s decision, opinions were split. Some claimed that not all fraternities were at fault, one admitted that something had to be done, and one student said that although they understand the reasoning, it “still kinda sucks”.

President Thrasher admitted, “We can’t police 42,000 students, and I don’t intend to do that. That’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to educate them. But on things like this, they’ve got to be a part of the solution.”

“I don’t think that’s the solution,” claimed Attorney Doug Fierberg, in response to the ban. Fierberg has represented nearly 50 parents nationwide whose children have been targets of campus assaults and fraternity hazing. He’s skeptical the ban will yield anything but a short hiatus in the party culture.

“They’re dangerous, have been dangerous, and are not known to be able to solve their own problems,” said Fierberg. “In the 1980’s, fraternities were the sixth worst insurance risk in the country, just behind hazardous waste haulers.”

A friend of Maxwell Gruver, the student who lost his life at LSU, asked, “If you’re supposed to be a club full of friends and life-lasting relationships, why did his life have to end so early?”

LSU resumed social activities a month after Gruver’s death, but the President ordered an alcohol ban within days after discovering some students hadn’t “absorbed the severity and seriousness” of the current situation.

When asked if banning alcohol at fraternities and sororities is on the table, FSU President Thrasher responded, “I don’t know. That’s what we’re going to have this conversation with them about.”

“Drew’s parents have expressed their hope that his death will be a catalyst for change,” Thrasher continued.

Coffey’s family hopes that “no family will ever have to experience the avoidable heartache of losing a child in the most shining moments of their lives.”

Jordan Doersam, a friend of Coffey, stated, “It’s been really rough. Nothing prepares you for losing one of your best friends. We’re all just trying to get through it.”

Penn State, which is led by former FSU President Eric Barron, is making drastic changes this year.

The university is assuming oversight of fraternities and sororities, delaying rushing for freshmen, limiting the number of socials with alcohol, hiring compliance monitors, and posting Greek Chapter score cards online.

FSU is telling us that all these options are under consideration, but no decisions have been made.

The Conspiracy of Inaction on Sexual Abuse and Harassment

Great op-ed piece from the New York Times regarding the vital importance of reporting suspected sexual harassment in K-12 schools, and the terrible consequences of remaining silent.

The Conspiracy of Inaction on Sexual Abuse and Harassment by David Leonhardt of the New York Times:

I caught the journalism bug in high school. I was fortunate to be a scholarship student at a rigorous New York private school with a weekly newspaper, and some of the older students I admired taught me the power that the written word could have.

When we complained verbally to teachers or administrators about a problem, they could ignore us. When we put our arguments in writing, they tended to pay attention. So we became teenage crusaders, inveighing against perceived injustices. Sometimes, the subjects were sophomoric (“censorship” of the talent show), but often they were serious (inequality, racism, South African divestment).

Three decades later, I look back on the experience with deep gratitude. I also look back with haunting regret.

For all of our crusading, we ignored the biggest story at the school. We were aware of the rumors — the teachers who made comments about girls’ bodies, the teacher suspiciously friendly with female students, the music teacher solicitous of male students.

But we never wrote about it. As best as I can remember, we didn’t even talk about writing about it. We didn’t know how. It seemed too dark, too uncertain.

In 2012, the truth came out. My school — Horace Mann — had tolerated sexual molestation for decades. Administrators whose most solemn responsibility was protecting children instead chose to look the other way and protect child abusers. The music teacher, a cultish figure named Johannes Somary, was the worst abuser during my time. One of his victims later committed suicide.

The current torrent of harassment revelations — following Jodi Kantor’s and Megan Twohey’s Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein — has caused me to think back on high school again, because every big case has had something in common with Horace Mann.

People knew.

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