PA Case Shows Prosecutors Take College Deaths Seriously

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After downing a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffering internal injuries during a fraternity hazing, a Penn State sophomore died. Not long ago, the story might have ended there. Instead, prosecutors filed criminal charges against 18 students in the death of Timothy Piazza. The case is the latest evidence of the harder line prosecutors have started taking when initiation rituals end in death from alcohol or physical abuse, the New York Times reports. At Baruch College, Northern Illinois University, Fresno State University and elsewhere, fraternity hazing deaths that might once have been labeled regrettable accidents have resulted in criminal charges.

“Go back a generation or two, and hazing was accepted conduct, part of the fraternity experience, part of the football experience,” said David LaBahn of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, which offers training for prosecutors. “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.” Colleges and universities have taken a tougher stance. Universities have shut down hundreds of offending fraternity chapters, and some have prohibited freshman-year pledging or imposed restrictions on alcohol. A smaller number have withdrawn formal recognition of all Greek-letter groups, forcing them to operate only off campus and without any official ties. What is less clear is how much of a difference their actions make. “This is a huge challenge because we don’t own the houses, we don’t own the property, we aren’t the” organization governing fraternities, said Penn State president Eric Barron. The Penn State prosecution is one of the largest ever brought in a fraternity misconduct case.

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