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Penn State fraternity faces uncertain future

Debra Erdley
| Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, 6:45 p.m.
In this image from video, Pocono Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner, right, and Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski hold a news conference at the police station in Pocono Summit, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, to discuss charges in the hazing death of New York City college student Chun 'Michael' Deng.
Associated Press
In this image from video, Pocono Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner, right, and Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski hold a news conference at the police station in Pocono Summit, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, to discuss charges in the hazing death of New York City college student Chun 'Michael' Deng.

Greek life is on the line at another Penn State fraternity following a Monroe County Pennsylvania judge's ruling in the 2013 Pocono Mountain hazing death of a freshman from Baruch College in New York.

Judge Margherita Patti Worthington fined the Pi Delta Psi fraternity $110,000 and ordered it banned from Pennsylvania for 10 years after sentencing four former fraternity members who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 2013 death of Baruch College freshman Chun “Michael” Deng.

Deng was blindfolded, forced to wear a heavy backpack and then repeatedly tackled as part of the fraternity's Crossing Over initiation ceremony. He was knocked unconscious and later died at a hospital.

Although Pi Delta Psi has 25 chapters across the country, only one is in Pennsylvania, at Penn State's University Park chapter.

Penn State spokesman Lisa Powers said the Asian-American cultural fraternity is in good standing with the university that is still dealing with the legal aftermath of the February 2017 death of a university sophomore in a hazing ritual at the since-shuttered Beta Theta Pi house.

“We are reviewing the ruling and seeking more insight about the effect of this sentence on the Penn State chapter. The university plans no immediate action,” Powers said.

Pi Delta Psi's national office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a written statement, the Asian-American cultural fraternity founded in 1994, said its now-disbanded Baruch College chapter brought “shame and dishonor” to the national fraternity.

Peter Lake a law professor at the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Police at Stetson University said Judge Patti-Worthington's ruling, while unusual, sounds a strong message to Greek life organizations.

“I think it sends a message that prosecutors and judges are going to take this more seriously. It's usually left to the institution or the fraternity to ban a chapter,” Lake said.

Timothy Burke, a Cincinnati lawyer who has represented national Greek life organizations, said the Monroe County case was unique in that the judge ruled against a national fraternity.

Burke, who has followed the case closely said it also stood out for Pi Delta Psi's lack of action in the anti-hazing movement, which he said “virtually every national fraternity” has taken up.

“It was very unique even to the point of the national president being among those sentenced to a period of probation because of some instructions he may have given about attempting to protect the national fraternity from law enforcement and that he had attended another one of those gauntlets,” Burke said.

The ruling against Pi Delta Psi came as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro agreed to take on the case of Timothy Piazza, the 19 year-old Penn State student who died in an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi house.

Piazza, a sophomore engineering major from New Jersey, died of injuries he suffered when he fell down a flight of steps at an alcohol-fueled pledge event Feb. 2 at the Beta Theta Pi house. Fraternity members failed to seek help for him for 12 hours.

Centre County Authorities initially charged eight fraternity brothers with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in Piazza's death. Those charges were dismissed at the preliminary hearing. But prosecutors refiled those charges and vowed to pursue them.

The future of the case appeared unclear as the county prosecutor's office changed hands last month.

Shapiro, however, agreed to take up the case Monday after Center County's new district attorney Bernard Cantorna petitioned to transfer the case, citing a conflict of interest.

The Associated Press contributed. Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib

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