Nineteen-year-old Timothy Piazza died two days after he was hazed by the fraternity he was pledging. Now, thanks to new video footage, prosecutors have filed more than 150 new charges against 17 Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers for their involvement in the hazing activities.
Hiding the evidence
In February 2017, Piazza, a Penn State sophomore, died from injuries he suffered during a hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi house. A very intoxicated Piazza fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, and fraternity brothers waited nearly 12 hours before they called 9-1-1 for help.
The police seized video recordings from the house but were able to view only the activities that took place on the main floor of the house. They were told that the cameras in the basement – where Piazza consumed the alcohol and incurred his fall – were not working that night.
Those main-floor videos showed disturbing images of Piazza’s severe physical distress along with the failed efforts of the frat brothers to rouse him. Cell phone records revealed text messages and internet searches that suggest that the brothers attempted to destroy potentially damning evidence that might incriminate them or their charter.
The basement video
As part of an investigation into crimes unrelated to Piazza’s death, State College police obtained a warrant to search the fraternity house. The video obtained with this search revealed that the basement cameras had been functioning on the night Piazza was hazed but that the recordings had been deleted. The police and the district attorney turned over the footage to the FBI.
FBI agents successfully restored basement recordings from the night Piazza was hazed. The new images helped authorities piece together a more detailed timeline of the fateful evening: in the 82 minutes before he fell down the basement steps, Piazza was given 18 drinks of beer, wine, and vodka.
To the courtroom
Eighteen frat brothers were initially charged in Piazza’s death, eight of them facing serious charges of involuntary manslaughter or aggravated assault. Without the basement videos, however, the defendants were able to argue that Piazza was simply involved in social drinking. In September, a judge dropped all charges against four of the young men and dismissed the manslaughter and assault charges against the eight.
The retrieval of the basement video upended the case. In the light of this new evidence, five fraternity brothers who furnished alcohol to Piazza now face new felony charges of involuntary manslaughter. The brothers who served other underage pledges, as shown in the basement recordings, were charged with hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.
Of the 17 young men charged from the recovered video evidence, 12 are new to the case. One of the new defendants was charged with three misdemeanors for allegedly deleting the basement footage two days after Piazza died. The five re-indicted frat brothers do not face double jeopardy, since they were never tried on the original charges.