Penn State proposes new safety reforms after pledge's death

Eighteen students are facing charges in connection with Timothy Piazza's death.

ByABC News
June 2, 2017, 5:58 PM

— -- In the wake of the death of a Pennsylvania State University student who died after falling at a fraternity house, the school today announced proposals for new reforms, including the transfer of control regarding fraternity and sorority misconduct from the Greek system to the university.

The proposed initiatives stem from the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore, who died on Feb. 4 after he fell down the stairs during a pledge ceremony at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on the night of Feb. 2. Fraternity members did not call 911 until the morning of Feb. 3, about 12 hours after Piazza's fall, according to a report on the grand jury's investigation. Piazza's death "was the direct result of traumatic brain injuries," according to the forensic pathologist.

Eighteen Penn State students are facing 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. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity -- which has since been barred from Penn State -- is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing. All defendants have been preliminarily arraigned but none have entered pleas.

PHOTO: Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State.
Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State.

Two days ago, Piazza's parents sent a letter to Penn State's Board of Trustees pushing for changes at the college campus, saying, "Our son died on your watch."

Today, the Board of Trustees met and supported new measures proposed by the university, including: university staff members monitoring social events; the university taking control of the fraternity and sorority misconduct and adjudication process; more parent education; and permanent revocation of university recognition for any chapter involved in "hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk."

The university said today it's also begun conversations about legislative initiatives, including support for a congressional proposal to expand Clery Act reporting (which requires schools that receive federal funding to distribute a public annual security report) to include hazing violations and more discussions "with state officials on ways to strengthen penalties for hazing, especially hazing that includes alcohol, and on increased statewide educational initiatives on the dangers of hazing and dangerous drinking."

Penn State Board of Trustees Chair Ira Lubert said in a statement today, “The board supports the important actions taken today by University leadership," adding, "These significant changes set a new standard among universities dealing with the challenges of Greek-letter communities."

Penn State President Eric Barron said, "There are other measures being discussed and will be instituted over time -- all with a focus on prevention, monitoring and enforcement. These measures augment a series of actions taken earlier this year, which are being made permanent."

The university said in a statement last week that it has independently initiated changes including: limiting alcohol to beer and wine and banning kegs; deferring the fraternity and sorority pledging process from the fall semester to the spring semester; emphasis on a zero-tolerance policy for hazing; more mandatory educational programming for Greek Life members; and "a significant reduction in the number of permitted socials with alcohol per semester."

Barron said, “I am resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our entire community into decisive action and reform, concentrating on the safety and well-being of students at Penn State."

Ahead of today's meeting, Piazza's parents, James and Evelyn Piazza, wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees. In the letter dated Wednesday, they said, "Our son died on your watch because of ignorance and denial by Penn State. Yes, he died at the hands of men who had no regard for human life, but that behavior was fostered and accepted at Penn State for a long time."

"We will never see him again because of the administration's failures to protect him and turning a blind eye to known problems," they said.

PHOTO: Old Main on the Penn State main campus in State College, Pa., Oct. 28, 2015.
Old Main on the Penn State main campus in State College, Pa., Oct. 28, 2015.

The Piazzas, who told ABC News last month they planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, fraternity members and the fraternity, requested the expulsion of students who were culpable in Piazza's death. (The university has put a hold on the graduation of students charged in Piazza's death.)

The Piazzas also requested the termination of administration members who the Piazzas say "turned a blind eye" to Greek life issues including Penn State Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims; and the termination of Penn State football trainer Tim Bream who lived in the Beta house as an adviser. The Piazzas claim that Bream was at the house the night of Piazza's death and must have known an illegal hazing event with alcohol taking place, adding that he "turned a blind eye for years."

Sims told ABC News today, “The Piazzas continue to have my deepest sympathy for the loss of their son and my enduring commitment to do all I reasonably can to address issues related to the misuse of alcohol and hazing among our students, as I always have.” Bream declined to comment on the advice of counsel.

The Piazzas also asked for support from the Board of Trustees as the family works to enact stronger hazing laws and a broader good Samaritan law. The family also asked for university involvement including stricter policies against hazing and underage drinking at fraternity events as well as a university-sponsored safety orientation class for potential pledges.

The Piazzas said they were developing a further list and that those requests were the starting point.

"We welcome meaningful, impactful changes beyond these suggestions," they said. "You now have an obligation to make the appropriate statements and changes to make sure this never happens again."

"All those who are part of turning a blind eye must be held accountable, just as the individuals who committed the crimes and recklessness should be held accountable," they said. "We are not trying to kill Greek life at Penn State. That is for someone else to decide, the BOT perhaps. Our mission is to make it safer, to the extent Greek life continues, so families no longer have to worry about their child coming home, being hurt or being sexually assaulted."

"Greek life at Penn State is broken and must be fixed. You have an obligation to either fix it or admit that you cannot make it work. Students governing students does not work and claiming there is little you can do is offensive to us and to anyone who seeks safety for their child. Penn State University failed our son and failed us," the Piazzas said. "It's time to admit responsibility so that the university can move forward."

In a statement, Penn State's Interfraternity Council noted that it had presented school administrators with a draft plan that included changes that "align with -- and even go further than -- the measures President Barronpresented today."

"We agree that added social restrictions, education, transparency and professional staff support are critical. We have tried to remain committed to being an active part of the solution within our community. We stand firm on our belief that when students are involved in collaborating with the university in monitoring and accountability, a greater impact is made. For that reason, we will continue to push for a partnership between student leaders and the University."

ABC News' Henderson Hewes contributed to this report.

Related Topics