PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – The Centre County District Attorney released a scathing grand jury report regarding Greek life at Penn State University on Friday morning.
The report is the culmination of a ten-month grand jury investigation after the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house.
“The grand jury, frankly, was appalled to the extent of the boldness of the hazing that happened in that house, the hazing that they have witnessed, the boldness of the individual and the culture they discovered through the investigation,” said Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
The grand jury’s 144-page report says Penn State officials displayed “a shocking apathy” to dangers from excessive drinking and that its inaction allowed criminal acts to occur.
Parks Miller says the grand jury was “horrified by a failure of a system that didn’t protect him and others.”
“The Grand Jury finds that Penn State administrators were aware of Beta Theta Pi’s problematic condition circa, 2009, and the dangers of university’s Greek life in general,” the report reads.
The report criticized the fact that fraternities are overseen not by the university, but by students, through an inter-fraternal council. Parks Miller said the grand jury called that system “a joke and a catastrophe.”
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.
Tom Kline, the attorney for Jim and Evelyn Piazza, backed the grand jury report.
“They are wholeheartedly committed, wholeheartedly with every ounce of their energy into seeing that another son or daughter doesn’t come home in a coffin,” said Kline.
Piazza’s parents said in a statement they hope the evidence released in the grand jury report will be allowed during the trial.
“We are hopeful that the mountain of evidence that the Grand Jury was able to discover and evaluate in recommending the criminal charges against the various individuals will eventually be allowed to be presented to and heard by a Centre County jury, in totality, to determine appropriate justice for all involved,” they said in a statement.
Following the report’s release, Penn State said in a statement, “The Penn State community continues to mourn the death of Timothy Piazza and all victims of hazing across the nation. The University will not forget these tragic deaths, as we continue our efforts to change the Greek-life culture.”
Prosecutors say Piazza, a pledge at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, died in February, two days after taking part in “the Gauntlet,” an alcohol-fueled hazing event at the home.
While the Beta Theta Pi fraternity has been permanently banned from the university’s campus, the grand jury report is expected to release its recommendations regarding Greek life there as a whole.
Authorities initially charged 18 brothers, who they say took twelve hours to call for help – even after Piazza fell down a flight of stairs and was knocked unconscious.
They add surveillance video shows some of the brothers picked him up and carried him to a couch, they slapped his face, poured beer on him, and one even punched him in the abdomen.
Video also shows one brother, who had pleaded with the others to call for help, getting slammed against a wall by another brother.
Piazza fell several more times throughout the evening and is seen on surveillance video with a visibly bruised abdomen, later determined to be a ruptured spleen.
When students in the home finally called 911, they did not mention the fall the night before.
Instead, officials say a cover-up began, deleting group messages and even surveillance video.
In November, prosecutors charged more brothers after investigators recovered that video from the home.
However, attorneys for the defendants claim their clients didn’t force Piazza to drink the alcohol and therefore should not be held criminally responsible for his death.
Parks Miller is scheduled to leave office at the end of the month. It’s unclear what effect, if any, her departure will have on this case.
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