A grand jury’s report in the wake of a fraternity pledge’s drinking death said Friday that Penn State officials displayed “a shocking apathy” to dangers from excessive drinking and that its inaction allowed criminal acts to occur.
The report was released by a district attorney in Pennsylvania and recommends a series of changes that the school should undertake in the wake of the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza in February.
“We are shaken by the findings of Penn State’s longtime knowledge of dangerous hazing, the excessive drinking culture, sexual assaults and other abusive behavior,” said Piazza family lawyer Tom Kline. “And the university’s preference to ignore and or condone such behavior to promote itself as a ‘fun place to go to school.’”
A Penn State spokesman did not have an immediate comment. The school permanently banned Beta Theta Pi in March, saying its investigation found a persistent pattern of excessive and forced drinking, hazing and drug use and sales.
The report calls on state lawmakers to pass stronger laws to deter hazing and underage drinking. It also calls on Penn State to regulate drinking itself, rather than hold a fraternity council responsible, and for the university to expel students involved in hazing after they are “afforded full due process rights.”
“Anything less will fail to operate as a truly effective deterrent,” according to the report.
Since Piazza’s death, Penn State officials said the university has launched new accountability measures, including suspending fraternities for alcohol violations and banning first-semester freshmen from joining Greek life.
But Kline said those steps don’t fix decades of complicity with the fraternities in a culture of hard drinking.
“What happened to Tim Piazza was not an accident. What happened to Tim Piazza was an inevitability,” Kline said.
Piazza’s death occurred two days after he suffered a series of falls and consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol during a pledge bid night.
Security camera footage documented how Piazza became visibly inebriated early in the evening, after which fraternity members made ineffective and even counterproductive efforts to help him. He had suffered a fractured skull, shattered spleen and other injuries.
Fraternity members found him unconscious in the basement the next morning, but waited about 40 minutes before summoning help.
WHYY’s Bobby Allyn contributed to this report.