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Timothy Piazza’s Death was a ‘Turning Point’ for America’s Fraternities

By A. Chris Gajilan, CNN | 12/6/2018 (Updated 12/8/2018)

Inhumane, cruel and tragic: Those are some of the words that have been used to describe the 2017 death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

The 19-year-old died after consuming 18 drinks in 82 minutes and sustaining a traumatic brain injury during a campus fraternity’s hazing rituals, court records, and testimony show.

Now, nearly two years after Piazza’s passing, many say his death has led to key changes in state legislatures and in the college Greek life community.

“The Piazza case is really a turning point to the extent that people know that fraternity hazing is unacceptable,” said John Hechinger, author of “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities.”

Four families that lost their sons to fraternity hazing — including Timothy’s parents, Jim and Evelyn — began working in September with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. Together, those two groups represent more than 90 fraternities and sororities in the United States.

The parents and the Greek life organizations have formed an anti-hazing coalition and now share a common goal: to pass legislation that would increase criminal penalties for hazing, and to increase education and awareness on college campuses.

“While we may seem like strange bedfellows, we all want the same thing: to end hazing so other parents don’t have to experience what we have,” Jim Piazza said.

So far, the Piazzas have spoken at more than a dozen campuses, directly addressing thousands of students and fraternity and sorority leaders.

“It makes more sense to work with them and have the opportunity to speak to fraternities and sororities and schools … and stop hazing in its tracks by the people who are perpetrating it,” Evelyn Piazza said. “Why not stop it before it even starts?”

Read more: Greek life more popular than ever, despite recent controversy and deaths

Rich Braham is another parent who’s traveled to colleges and universities across the country to support the two-fold mission of education and changing laws.

Braham’s 18-year-old son, Marquise, committed suicide in 2014, and the family believes it was because of alleged hazing while at Penn State Altoona. The case never resulted in criminal charges; the Braham family has filed a civil lawsuit against Penn State, two of its employees, the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and some of its members.

Referring to the case of Timothy Piazza, Braham vividly recalls that the fraternity’s members waited more than 12 hours to call 911 after Timothy fell down a flight of stairs.

“Letting him suffer the way he suffered was just so atrocious,” Braham said. “Tim’s death was a galvanizing point. … It was like, ‘enough.'”

On the campuses he visits, Braham wants to make it clear that these incidents can happen to anyone — and that there will be consequences.

“There was nothing special or unique about our kids. It was Russian roulette,” Braham said. “We want these kids to know that it could be any one of them who dies from hazing. Then, if you don’t hear the message, we’ll lock you up! If you don’t listen, there’s a penalty. It could ruin your lives and future.”

Read more: Why college students subject themselves to abusive hazing

This new coalition of parents harks back to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaign of the 1980s, said John Hechinger, who has reported on fraternities and education for years. When Candace Lightner started MADD in May 1980, four days after her daughter was killed by a drunken driver, public health professionals considered drunken driving to be the No. 1 killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. (The leading cause of death in 2016 for that age group was accidental injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

MADD’s efforts helped reduce the number of drunken driving fatalities and change public perception of driving while intoxicated. Now, the parents in the anti-hazing coalition want to achieve the same with respect to dangerous pledging rituals, and they’ve made some strides on campus and with policy.

In August, the North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 66 fraternities with more than 6,100 chapters across 800 campuses, declared a ban on hard alcohol beginning in September 2019. Under the policy, hard liquor — categorized as more than 15% alcohol by volume — will still be allowed if it is served by a licensed third-party vendor.

“Most of the deaths have involved hard alcohol; if a ban on hard alcohol can successfully be enforced, it could be a great thing,” Hechinger said. “My view is that any step is better than none.”

But Doug Fierberg, a school violence attorney who has represented many families who have lost their children to hazing, is more critical. “No new policy is ever going to be better than its means of implementation,” Fierberg said. “Virtually everything the fraternity industry does relies on 18- and 19-year-old men to implement it and make life and death decisions.”

In October, the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law was signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. It gives tougher penalties for hazing, making it a felony if it results in death or serious injury.

For its part, Penn State is also developing a national scorecard to provide public information on Greek letter organizations, including alcohol and hazing violations and chapter suspensions.

At the time the Piazza law was signed, a Penn State spokeswoman said it came “in conjunction with the aggressive safety and related measures the University has implemented, (and) is another step toward our mutual goal to increase student safety on campuses.”

“Penn State has been, and continues to be, committed to addressing this serious national issue,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in a statement.

With its anti-hazing law, Pennsylvania joined at least 12 other states with tougher anti-hazing laws. But the long-term impact of these efforts remains to be seen.

Since Piazza’s death, there have been other alcohol-related deaths at fraternities across the country. A number of headlines have emerged pointing to fraternities and local chapters being suspended for hazing and alcohol abuse. And even with all that, Greek life is still more popular than ever.

“On one side, we’re seeing all of this apparent reform action, (but) on the other, we’re seeing pushback from the student body,” said Hank Nuwer, author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives.”

“As much good work as the Piazzas are doing, not everybody is listening.”

Full Article Here

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CNN Special Report: A Deadly Haze: Inside the Fraternity Crisis

Doug Fierberg and our client will be featured in the report. Tune in Saturday August 25th at 8 pm ET.

When gruesome details of the death of 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza became public, college Greek life and the country’s fraternity system came under intense scrutiny.  A wide-ranging investigation examining hours of video, text messages between fraternity brothers and eyewitness testimony led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in history.  Now, more than two dozen young men face criminal charges.  In A Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis airing Saturday, August 25 at 8pm ET on CNN, Alisyn Camerota takes an in-depth look at what happened to Piazza inside the walls of the Beta Theta Pi house and the alleged coverup that ensued.

Camerota speaks to Kordel Davis, a brother who witnessed the events of that night.  She also speaks with James Vivenzio, a former fraternity brother turned whistleblower, who describes the pledging process and what it’s like to be hazed.

With insight from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim, A Deadly Haze delves into a fraternity system that has been called out for “rampant and pervasive” hazing in its Greek community. But the fraternity hazing crisis stretches far beyond Penn State.

Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country. Some studies find that Greek Life comes with a 50% higher rate of sexual assault. Fraternity and sorority members also report excessive drinking four times higher than the average student. Despite those risks, young men still flock to fraternities. By all accounts, Greek life is as popular as ever – with more than 400,000 active fraternity members which is a 50% increase over the past decade.

As millions of young people arrive on college campuses,  do they and their parents know enough about the perils of hazing at universities across the country?  Even with Timothy Piazza’s tragic, high profile case, dangerous fraternity behavior continues on campuses across the country leading to at least three more deaths in 2017.

A Deadly Haze will also stream live for subscribers on Saturday, August 25 via CNNgo (at and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The documentary will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.


About CNN Special Report
CNN Special Report is the award-winning, in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events and the powerful human-interest stories that reflect our times.

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Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza – Serious Charges Dropped

A Judge has Dismissed Serious Charges against defendants for the Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza not once, but twice.

For the second time, Pennsylvania Judge, Allen Sinclair, has tossed out the most serious allegations against 11 Pennsylvania State University fraternity brothers who were arrested following the hazing death of Timothy Piazza last year. This sends a dangerous message to fraternities across the nation that life threatening hazing practices resulting in death and injury will be taken lightly in court. PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing, has released the following statement regarding the dropped allegations against the defendants for the hazing death of Timothy Piazza:

Friday, March 30, 2018: We, the members of Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH), want to convey in the strongest possible terms our outrage and profound disappointment in the ruling issued by Pennsylvania Magistrate Allen Sinclair in the hazing death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza.

The most serious charges against the defendants in Tim’s case were dismissed not once, but twice! That sends exactly the wrong message to students who are a part of Greek Life: That they may engage in any criminal or dangerous behavior, including hazing; and will face little consequences for their actions. What a missed opportunity!

To deter criminal behavior of fraternity members, as well as those belonging to other campus-based groups like band, athletics and the military from engaging in reckless activity that can result in sexual assaults, serious physical and emotional harm, and in the worst case, death, the punishment needs to fit the crime. We ask the magistrate, what is the value of a life? What was the value of Timothy Piazza’s life? What is the value of the life of any young person in America and what should the punishment be when that life is recklessly stolen?

After reviewing a treasure trove of video and cell phone evidence revealing exactly what happened to Tim and the real-time response from his “so-called” Beta Theta Pi brothers, two seasoned prosecutors –one county, one state— determined that the defendants should be charged with very serious crimes that could result in lengthy prison sentences if they were convicted. But, perhaps in the most disturbing chapter in this tragic tale is that Magistrate Sinclair, made the unilateral decision to dismiss those most serious charges. Judge Sinclair may not realize it, but his ruling will make it more dangerous for students involved in Greek life and puts at greater risk any student on any campus in America, who makes the fateful decision to attend a Greek event. This ruling is a nod and a wink to all frat boys that they will not be held accountable for their actions, even if someone dies!

PUSH was created to end these types of injustices, and as the nation’s consciousness is focused on keeping our children safe, we will unite in strength with other parents to bring needed change and protect our kids.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law send our sincere condolences to family and friends seeking justice for the loss of Timothy Piazza. Our firm has defended families and victims affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury for over 20 years. We continue to ensure fraternities and fraternity brothers are held fully accountable for their misconduct.

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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.

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Doug Fierberg Comments on Criminal Charges Arising From Fraternity Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State

Beta Theta Pi Fraternity pledge dies after hazing ritual

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Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State University. Google Maps

18 Penn State students are facing criminal charges – eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing among other charges; and six for evidence tampering –  due to their involvement in the fraternity hazing death of Penn State University Sophomore, Timothy Piazza.

Douglas Fierberg – a national acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related student deaths – tells the New York Times:

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

Fierberg is lead attorney for the family of Michael Deng, the Baruch College student who died as a result of a hazing ritual known to Pi Delta Psi brothers as “the gauntlet” or “glass ceiling”. The Deng’s brought a wrongful death suit against the fraternity and several of its members – 37 of whom now face a range of criminal charges for their involvement in Deng’s death, including third degree murder, assault, hindering apprehension and hazing.

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the Beta Theta Pi members involved in Timothy Piazza’s death are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group offer our deepest condolences to the Piazza family during this unfathomably difficult time.

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Defendant Involved in Fatal Hazing of Michael Deng Pleads Guilty

The Pi Delta Psi brothers present the night our client lost his life in a violent fraternity hazing ritual face a range of criminal charges including assault, hindering apprehension, and hazing.

fatal hazing, hazing ritual, hazing death, michael deng, the fierberg national law group, pi delta psi fraternity
Deng was killed during a trip with the Baruch College chapter of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity.

School Violence Law represents the family of Michael Deng in its pursuit of civil justice in his behalf.

As reported previously, 37 members of an Asian-American cultural fraternity – Pi Delta Psi at Baruch College in Manhattan – were arrested December 2013 after Michael Deng died of head injuries sustained during a brutal hazing ritual known as “the glass ceiling.”

Ka-Wing Yuen is the first of the Pi Delta Psi defendants to stand trial. He plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to hinder apprehension by evidence tampering, and conspiracy to commit hazing Tuesday in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 

Yuen will be sentenced January 23 and could received several months in prison.

Five of the remaining 36 defendants face third-degree murder charges.

Click here and here to review our previous coverage on the events that transpired that fatal night.  
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Altoona Mirror: Hazing Death Lawsuit is “Groundbreaking”

Doug Fierberg’s representation of hazing death victim, Marquise Braham, discussed in Altoona Mirror article.

The father of deceased Penn State Altoona student and fraternity member, Marquise Braham, is suing the university, the national Phihazing death victim, hazing wrongful death, hazing death, fraternity hazing death, wrongful death, wrongful death lawsuit, hazing wrongful death, hazing death lawsuit Sigma Kappa fraternity, two officers of the Altoona campus fraternity – Eric Traister and Andrew O’Connor – and others in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in the hazing death of his son.

The attorney representing Braham in the civil lawsuit, School Violence Law’s own Doug Fierberg of The Fierberg National Law Group, said Braham has a groundbreaking lawsuit that could change how universities nationwide supply information about fraternities:

“If we set the precedent that schools are obligated to tell the truth of student groups, it will change schools.” 

Fierberg is also the lead attorney in a hazing death case at Baruch College in New York City.

Read the full December 17 article here.
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5 Face Murder Charges in Fraternity Hazing Death of Our Client

The violent Pi Delta Psi fraternity hazing practice that killed Michael Deng is investigated by The New York Times.

A grand jury in Monroe County, Pennsylvania recommended the five fraternity members of Baruch College’s Pi Delta Psi face third-degree murder charges for their involvement in the hazing death of Michael Deng.

In total, 37 Pi Delta Psi brothers present the night of Deng’s tragic death face a range of criminal charges, including assault, hindering apprehension, and hazing. The fraternity is also being charged.

The Deng family applauded the grand jury’s decision to indict Pi Delta Psi members on criminal charges, saying in a statement released Monday:

“Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970. Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one.”

In light of the recent criminal charges, the Deng family will amend the wrongful-death lawsuit, filed in April, seeking changes in Pi Delta Psi and an end of the pledging process, to account for the names and roles of those involved.

Attorney for the Deng family, Douglas Fierberg of School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group, said in a telephone interview on Monday:

“If there was no pledging process, Michael would not be dead.”

Click Here to read The New York Times article in its entirety.
UPDATE: The five Pi Delta Psi brothers facing third degree murder charges for their involvement in the hazing death of Michael Deng were arraigned October 22nd in a Pennsylvania Court (raw footage of the arraignment below). 
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Faternity Pledge, Michael Deng, Fought Back in Fatal Hazing

The horrors that ensued for our client on the night of the fatal hazing as reported in graphic detail by The New York Times:

Michael Deng’s future was cut tragically short when the 19-year-old died during a trip to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains with the Baruch College chapter of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity.

The fraternity brothers decided that Deng had a bad attitude.

Like three other Pi Delta Psi fraternity pledges who went before him on a cold December morning in 2013, Mr. Deng was forced to run across a frozen yard through a knot of his fraternity brothers, while he wore a blindfold and a backpack weighted down with 20 to 30 pounds of sand.

The gantlet, called the Glass Ceiling, symbolized their burden as Asian-Americans trying to break into the mainstream. The backpack stood for the weight of their fraternity bonds, one member told the police, according to a grand jury report.

Tragically for Deng, the fraternity brothers decided he had a bad attitude.  A judgment that would ultimately lead to his death. a decision that ultimately would lead to his death. Mr. Deng, a freshman at Baruch College whose parents emigrated from China, did not fall into line.

He fought back, kicking one of the men lined up to tackle him, a fraternity brother told investigators. A second told the police he did not say the things he was supposed to, adding, “He got the ‘Bros’ mad.”

So the brothers hit harder.

One ran at Mr. Deng from 15 feet away and plowed into him with his head lowered, in a move known as the spear, student witnesses said. Others pushed him to the ground, the force of each blow amplified by the weight on Mr. Deng’s back.

After they were done, Mr. Deng was dying from brain and bodily injuries, a prefinals weekend retreat had turned into the scene of a murder investigation, and his fellow pledges, big brothers and fraternity leaders were its primary suspects.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania said this week that they intended to charge five people with third-degree murder and 32 others with a range of counts, including assault, hindering apprehension and hazing in the death of Mr. Deng, known as Michael, on Dec. 9, 2013.

American colleges have struggled for years to tamp down on fraternity hazing, a task that has bedeviled administrators as they try to curb sprawling late-night parties, relying on witnesses with fierce loyalties to their student groups. If nothing else, the details of Mr. Deng’s death, as described in the grand jury’s report released on Tuesday, show how hard it has been to control the violence.

Baruch, a public commuter school in the heart of Manhattan, barely has a Greek scene to speak of, and the retreat happened in a weekend rental house in Tunkhannock Township, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains, more than 100 miles away. Yet so many students participated, according to the authorities, that their court appearances have to be spaced out so as not to overwhelm the small courthouse where they are being charged.

Pi Delta Psi’s Baruch colony, founded in 2010, was designed to help Asian-American students — many of whom were the children of immigrants — find a place in the pecking order of a school buzzing with aspiring business people.

For Mr. Deng, a competitive handball player who graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, the group offered “the possibility of personal connections, friendship, a sense of belonging to the Asian community, and having access to some of those connections because he intended to be involved in international business,” a family lawyer, Douglas E. Fierberg, said on Tuesday.

But the Glass Ceiling was a manifestation of the barriers they faced, and a test for new pledges to prove they could surmount them. “We should help each other to enter the mainstream of society,” said Hugh H. Mo, a lawyer for one of the defendants, echoing the group’s guiding philosophy.

On that December morning, he said, the tradition took on a “Lord of the Flies” dynamic.

After they were done tackling him, Mr. Deng’s brothers carried him inside the two-story home. His body felt like a “dead weight,” one member later told the police, according to the grand jury report. Another described it as “straight like a board.”

He was laid down near the fireplace and stripped of the black hooded sweatshirt and black sweatpants that were his uniform for the initiation. They put him in a blanket, then gave him water and chocolate and put sugar on his lips to try waking him up.

After 10 minutes, Mr. Deng “started sucking air and making snoring sounds,” one member said. Some students noticed his pupils did not dilate.

They reached out to the fraternity’s national president at the time, Andy Meng, who told them by phone to hide everything showing the group’s symbol, according to the grand jury report. One member told the police that “the protocol is to first put away fraternity letters, paddles, banners etc.,” to shield the organization.

The brothers grew nervous, but not nervous enough to call an ambulance.

“Kwan stated no one called for an ambulance because someone looked it up and the bill/cost was too high,” the grand jury report says, citing the account of Kenny Kwan, who prosecutors say will be charged with murder in the tackling on Mr. Deng that started with a 15-foot running head start.

Instead, they pulled up their cellphones’ browsers and searched for terms like “Concussion can’t wake up,” “snoring but not waking up” and “pupils don’t dilate.” One member asked for advice from a friend whose grandfather had recently fallen and died.

It was an hour before three members took him to the hospital. He was mumbling, shivering and snoring, as if he had phlegm stuck in his throat.

There, doctors found constellations of bruises spread across his head, cheeks, back and thighs. His head injuries were so severe that a doctor determined they would have required “hundreds of pounds of impulsive loads.” He also had traumatic asphyxia, likely from hits or tackles magnified by his backpack’s heavy load.

When investigators searched the home, whose facade of brick and siding gave it the stately look of a traditional fraternity house, they found Mr. Deng’s clothes stuffed in a garbage bag. Despite the members’ best efforts, the police also found clothing, paddles, banners, signs and notebooks, all bearing the fraternity’s logo.

Then it came time for the authorities to determine responsibility But some of the members “lied to the police, they hid and tried to hide evidence, and a lot of that was based on trying to cover up and hide the fraternity’s involvement in the case,” Michael Rakaczewski, an assistant district attorney in Monroe County, Pa., said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“Doctors found constellations of bruises spread across his head, cheeks, back and thighs. His head injuries were so severe that a doctor determined they would have required “hundreds of pounds of impulsive loads.” He also had traumatic asphyxia, likely from hits or tackles magnified by his backpack’s heavy load. When investigators searched the home, whose facade of brick and siding gave it the stately look a traditional fraternity house, they found Mr. Deng’s clothes stuffed in a garbage bag. Despite the members’ best efforts, the police also found clothing, paddles, banners, signs and notebooks, all bearing the fraternity’s logo. “– The New York Times

Doug Fierberg, the lawyer for Mr. Deng’s parents, who have sued the fraternity and several of its members, said they were disturbed by the revelation on Tuesday that some members had undressed him after his injury, and that they had singled him out for worse abuse because he resisted. He’s saying, “Do not do this to me,”  Mr. Fierberg said, “and the result is, they do worse.”

Click here to read the article detailing the fatal night in its entirety.
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Indictment in Fraternity Death Case: Michael Deng

Press Release Announces Indictment in Fatal Hazing of Michael Deng.

Today’s press release from Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department announces the indictment of the fraternity and many of its members in the fraternity hazing death of Michael Deng.

On behalf of our client, Michael Deng, and his family, we applaud the police and district attorney’s office in taking this bold step in obtaining justice for Michael’s tragic, preventable death.  These individuals and their fraternity must and will be brought to justice.


In response to this news, Michael’s family released the following statement:

“Today, the parents of Michael Deng applaud the actions by the police, grand jury and Monroe County District Attorneys to bring criminal charges against the Pi Delta Psi Fraternity and its members for the tragic, entirely preventable hazing death of Michael.  Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970.  Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one.  Michael was a wonderful, beloved young man, and, in his honor, the family will also continue pursuing its wrongful death case against the fraternity to cause it and other fraternities to change so that other parents will be spared the loss of a precious child.”

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