Injuries and death caused by hazing are no longer excused or treated with a slap on the wrist. Prosecutors are bypassing misdemeanor hazing charges for the much more serious murder and manslaughter charges when death results from a hazing ritual.
No Longer Excused
"Go back a generation or two, and hazing was accepted conduct, part of the fraternity experience, part of the football experience," said David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Now it's no longer 'boys will be boys' and 'why is the prosecutor getting involved in this?' I think there is much more acceptance out there that this is unlawful behavior."
Three cases: LSU, Penn State and Baruch College illustrate this new reality:
At LSU: On September 13, 2017, at the Phi Delta Theta house, an 18-year-old pledge died of acute ethanol intoxication with aspiration after playing a drinking game. His blood alcohol content was .496 percent, more than six times the legal limit. He and other pledges had received text messages ordering them to report for "Bible study at the chapter house. "Bible study," was question-and-answer game during which pledges were forced to drink "a pull" from a bottle of alcohol if they answered questions incorrectly. The 19-year-old fraternity member who was in charge of the hazing event and who aggressively insisted that the pledge drink was charged with negligent homicide and misdemeanor hazing. Nine other students are currently facing hazing misdemeanors and expulsion.
At Penn State: On February 2, 2017 at the Beta Theta Pi house, pledges were forced to line up for a "gauntlet" of drinking stations. First, they passed a vodka bottle down the line. Each pledge was ordered to drink before moving to the next station. The pledges were then ordered to "shotgun" a beer, and made to drink from a wine bag. Finally, the were obligated to finish with beer pong. In a group message sent shortly before midnight, one of the fraternity members texted that an 18-year-old pledge had fallen 15 feet down a flight of stairs and would need help." Video from the fraternity showed the pledge stumbling and hitting his head on a railing, on the stone floor and on a furniture. A few times, a fraternity brother walked into the lobby, saw the pledge lying on the couch and failed to render aid. Instead he was "back-packed." A backpack stuffed with textbooks was placed on his back to weigh him down so that he would not roll over and choke on his vomit. While he drifted in and out of consciousness, fraternity brothers splashed water on his face in an effort to revive him. Twelve hours after the gauntlet game commenced, 911 was alerted but by then he had died. Eighteen Penn State students were charged: eight with involuntary manslaughter and ten with hazing misdemeanors and furnishing alcohol to minors.
At Baruch College: On December 9, 2013, a Pi Delta Psi pledge participated in a ritual called the "Glass Ceiling." He was blindfolded and made to wear a backpack weighted with sand while crossing a frozen field as members of the fraternity tackled him. During at least one tackle, he was lifted up and dropped on the ground in a move known as "spearing." He complained his head hurt but continued participating and was eventually knocked unconscious. Fraternity members carried him inside and contacted a national fraternity official who told them to hide fraternity items. Some members left the house, while others changed his clothes and conducted internet searches to diagnose his symptoms. When the pledge experienced trouble breathing, he was driven to the hospital where he died of severe head trauma. Initially, 37 people were charged in connection with his death and faced assault and hindering apprehension charges. Five fraternity members were charged with third-degree murder which did not require a specific intent to kill. Eventually, four of the men who had been charged with murder pleaded guilty to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension.
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