By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A former fraternity pledge turned whistleblower speaks out about the Penn State hazing scandal.READ MORE: Flights Canceled, Some SEPTA Routes Suspended As Nor'easter Hits Region
“I never intended to become a whistleblower but when I saw what was going on, the abuse myself and others were repeatedly experiencing and the university was totally ignoring …. They left me no choice but to go to police before more people, pledges and innocent students got hurt physically and emotionally,” said James Vivenzio during a press conference Monday.
Vivenzio, pledged Kappa Delta Rho at Penn State last year.
On Monday he filed a lawsuit against Penn State University and the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity for negligence and battery, among other things.
The eight-count suit, filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County by Vivenzio’s attorney, Aaron J. Freiwald of Freiwald Law, P.C., calls the “House of Honor” a “House of Horrors” and details allegations of “reckless, barbaric, and life-threatening hazing at the KDR fraternity house.”
Vivenzio said fraternity members “assured me there was a no hazing policy.”
But the complaint, obtained by the Eyewitness News I-Team shows a very different picture.
According to the complaint, Vivenzio alleges he and other members of his pledge class of 19 freshmen were subjected to numerous abuses including:
- Cigarette burns, punching and branding with hot clothes hangers during the hazing period which lasted more than two months and was 24/7 during “Hell Week.”
- Being forced to drink from a bucket of alcohol mixed with urine, vomit during regular “Line ups” in the basement of the fraternity house.
- Being forced to guzzle hard liquor until vomiting was induced, despite all pledges being underage.
- Being tormented with photos distributed to more than 140 fraternity members, including alumni – over the fraternity’s secret Facebook page, depicting drug dealing and nude, inebriated and/or passed out female and male visitors to the fraternity.
“There is an image – maybe one of the more disturbing, of a young man and woman, both of them passed out in a porta-potty … with her panties at her ankles and his hands between her legs. These were images that were sent around, commented on, laughed about,” said Freiwald.
What’s more shocking?
Vivenzio says the disturbing allegations all happened under Penn State’s nose.
He says after calling Penn State’s hazing hotline he met with a senior investigator at the University in April 2014.READ MORE: Philadelphia Weather: More Than A Foot Of Snow Expected For Jersey Shore As Nor'easter Approaches
During that meeting, Freiwald says Vivenzio explained what he had witnessed and been subjected to and showed the investigator hundreds of documents including photos and group text messages to support his allegations.
According to the complaint, “Penn State recklessly and unconscionably sat on the information” for more than a year without action.
In May 2015, Penn State kicked Kappa Delta Rho off campus for a minimum of three years.
Freiwald likens the “cover-up” by Penn State to the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.
“The attitude of keeping this in house, looking the other way, being painfully slow to respond is identical,” he said.
The complaint alleges it wasn’t until Vivenzio took everything to police in January 2015 that the university took action by removing the fraternity.
Penn State has not yet answered questions from Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter, Charlotte Huffman.
In a statement sent via e-mail a spokeswoman said Penn State “strongly disputes” the allegations in the complaint.
The university says Vivenzio and his family would not file a complaint, speak with State College Police or participate in the formal disciplinary process available.
Freiwald responded the university’s statement calling it “false and misleading in an attempt to conceal and blur the truth.”
Freiwald says Vivenzio and his family have always been willing to cooperate and “we look forward to presenting all of the evidence in this case to a jury.”
The complaint demands a jury trial and requests punitive damages as well as compensatory damages.
Also named in the lawsuit are Penn State’s Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association, organizations responsible for overseeing activity within the Greek system.
Joseph Rosenberg, Executive Director of the national fraternity declined to answer Huffman’s questions saying Kappa Delta Rho does not comment on pending litigation.
Instead, Rosenberg e-mailed a statement saying Kappa Delta Rho expelled 38 members of the fraternity on Monday.
Freiwald says the complaint is aimed at halting hazing violence at PSU-Kappa Delta Rho and elsewhere.
In order to further their cause, Freiwald’s firm has created a website: http://www.endhazingnow.com/MORE NEWS: Jersey Shore Residents Bracing For 12 Or More Inches Of Snow: ‘I Hope We Don’t Lose Power’