Twenty-eight former Penn State University Beta Theta Pi fraternity members, including several who have pled guilty in connection with the February 4, 2017 hazing death of 19-year-old pledge Timothy J. Piazza, have been named as individual defendants in a Federal Court civil wrongful death, negligence, and conspiracy complaint, Thomas R. Kline, attorney for Mr. Piazza’s parents announced today. Mr. Kline also said that the parents have reached with PSU, without filing a lawsuit, a comprehensive, safety-focused settlement agreement, aimed at protecting present and future generations of students from harm by ensuring a “healthier and safer environment”.
Kline said, “This lawsuit filing, and announcement of our sweeping out-of-court settlement with the university, marks two milestone developments in this long and difficult journey of Jim and Evelyn Piazza as they fight for the full measure of justice – and permanent Greek life reforms – in memory of their son following his preventable death. The complaint, which also follows last December’s landmark settlement with the national fraternity of Beta Theta Pi, is necessary to avert future tragedies. With the assistance of recovered fraternity house interior surveillance video, and text messages amongst the defendants, we intend to hold all those responsible for Tim’s death fully accountable. Only through the civil justice process can these objectives be accomplished.”
Jim and Evelyn Piazza, stated Mr. Kline, have tirelessly and courageously worked for justice in the name of their son. Last October the Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law was enacted in Pennsylvania. They will be spending this weekend in private remembrance of their son, and respectfully ask for privacy. Mr. Kline stated that in reaching the settlement with Penn State, they acknowledge and endorse the important strides made at PSU, especially the significant work of President Eric Barron, in bringing about meaningful and permanent changes in Greek life to Penn State and college campuses around the country.
According to the multi-count complaint, “For more than 11 hours after his fall (at the pledge, or bid-acceptance event) on the night of February 2, 2017), Timothy Piazza endured horrible pain and suffering, which was documented by closed-circuit cameras. Video from that night shows Timothy Piazza writhing and deteriorating. Despite knowing the serious nature of Timothy Piazza’s fall, and despite knowing that some fraternity members wanted Piazza to receive professional medical care, the Fraternity Defendants did not seek medical care for him until it was too late. Upon realizing the grave consequences of their conduct, the Fraternity Defendants unsuccessfully sought to conceal evidence of their hazing.” The battery counts in the complaint relate to claims that several fraternity “brothers” physically assaulted – including slapping and punching – Mr. Piazza while he was incapacitated.
The complaint paints a vivid picture of the chapter’s members, acting individually and through their organizational committee structure, engaged in a conspiracy to wreak alcohol-laced havoc on Mr. Piazza and others in his pledge class. It alleges that they “planned, orchestrated, organized, oversaw, participated in, facilitated, or directed the hazing of pledges, including Timothy Piazza.”
Mr. Kline, who has been at Jim and Evelyn’s side, along with his co-counsel David C. Williams, throughout the criminal proceedings in Bellefonte, Centre County, said the civil complaint depicts how the fraternity members knew or should have known they could cause grave harm to the pledges.
It was also announced today that the parents last week reached a final settlement with Penn State. While the monetary terms are confidential, the significant safety-related reforms portion of the agreement is public on the Penn State website. Covering numerous aspects of fraternity and sorority operations, and individual conduct at the University, it is highlighted below:
Enhanced Greek Life Accountability & Safety
- The University will report any violation by a Greek Life Organization of University policies regarding underage drinking or hazing to (a) the Greek Life Organization’s national organization and (b) the Greek Life Organization’s alumni housing board.
- The University shall encourage each Greek Life Organization with a chapter house to have a trained adult, non-Student Organization member reside in the chapter house.
- The University shall encourage Greek Life Organizations with a chapter house to consider the feasibility of the installation of security cameras in the common areas of such chapter house. The University shall encourage the installation of security cameras at all Greek Life Organization housing, including (a) encouraging each Greek Life Organization’s alumni housing board to have cameras installed and periodically monitored by a third party, (b) encouraging the Greek Life Organization’s alumni housing corporation to fund the installation and monitoring of such security cameras.
- If a national organization withdraws recognition for its local affiliate student organization, including fraternities and sororities, the University shall, in most circumstances, continue its practice of withdrawing recognition from the organization for at least the same period stated by the national organization.
- The University will support any Greek Life Organization’s determination to adhere to an alcohol-free housing arrangement. If a Greek Life Organization’s national organization has implemented a substance-free housing policy, the University shall encourage such Greek Life Organization’s implementation of said policy.
Ensuring BTP Expulsion, Barring “Underground” Organizations
- Continuing to adhere to its March 30, 2017 decision “to permanently revoke recognition of Beta Theta Pi banning it from ever returning as a chapter at Penn State,” the University shall not support, or otherwise take any voluntary action to facilitate the reinstatement of Beta Theta Pi as a Greek Life Organization at Penn State.
- The University shall not support, or otherwise, take any voluntary action to facilitate reinstatement of the Beta Theta Pi house for Greek life purposes.
- If there is reasonable cause to believe, based on information available to the University at the time, that an organization seeking University recognition is merely a reconstitution, in some form, of an organization that has lost University recognition, the request for recognition is likely to be denied. This denial would prevent the organization from participating in the privileges that come with University recognition, including participation in intramurals and THON.
Enhanced Bystander Engagement Efforts
- Each year, the University shall continue to offer educational programming about alcohol, hazing, sexual assault, bystander intervention, mental health concerns, and good citizenship in the community at New Student Orientation and Parents’ Weekend specifically for natural and legal guardians, including where feasible a presentation from an individual or individuals who have personally experienced tragedy as a result of hazing, excessive drinking, sexual assault, or other Greek Life-related activities. The informational literature referenced in paragraph l of Appendix A (below) shall include the University’s anti-hazing policy.
- The University shall continue to encourage strong and uniform fraternity and sorority participation in its existing bystander intervention program—Stand for State, as well as the implementation and promotion of an anonymous reporting application, such as LiveSafe Mobile.
- The educational programming referenced in paragraph k of Appendix A (a) shall be communicated to all students participating in New Student Orientation; (b) shall be offered for all students planning to participate in Greek Life Organization new member affiliation activities and, annually, for students who are members of Greek Life Organizations and (c) may include live or recorded lectures, live or recorded presentations, or interactive online courses.
Culture Change & Enhanced Transparency
- The University shall amend its publications and literature, including online, to change references to terms such as “pledge”, “pledging”, and “rush” to words such as “new member,” “new member affiliation activities,” “new member affiliation process,” and “new member affiliation programs.”
- If any University campus adopts or otherwise implements a hitherto nonexistent Greek Life reform, the University shall adopt and otherwise implement the reform at all University campuses where feasible.
- The University shall promptly publish, in a readily visible location online, information to the public that includes, but is not limited to: Greek Life Organization suspensions and closures; the beginning and ending dates of the new member affiliation period in each semester; the University’s policies on hazing and alcohol use, to include specific penalties for students found to violate said policies; all Greek Life Organization violations of University policies involving alcohol or hazing after notice to the University; the University’s investigation findings regarding Greek Life Organization violations of University risk management policies; and Score Card data referenced in Paragraph h of Appendix A, which shall include reported incidents of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and physical assault;
- Unless otherwise agreed to, the University shall use reasonable efforts to implement the reforms herein no later than the start of the University’s 2019-2020 academic year.
Mr. Kline added that the settlement with Penn State was a “direct outgrowth of the determined dedication by Jim and Evelyn Piazza to the cause of preventing hazing injury and death in Greek life.” Just last week they participated in the announcement that Penn State would also be the new home for the national Greek life research center, also named in Tim’s honor: Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform.