Penn State frat hit by judge's statewide ban in hazing case

Fraternity Death Baruch College
In this May 15, 2017, file photo, Kenny Kwan, center, leaves the Monroe County Courthouse in Stroudsburg. Kwan is one of four New York City men from the New York City who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2013 death of a fraternity pledge from the Baruch College campus of the City University of New York at a rented house in the Poconos. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)

Another fraternity faces a shutdown at Pennsylvania State University, even though its members haven’t been in trouble.

In what appears to be an unprecedented legal ruling, a Monroe County judge on Monday banned the Pi Delta Psi fraternity from operating any chapters in Pennsylvania for 10 years. The ban came during the sentencing of the fraternity and four Pi Delta Psi members from Baruch College in New York, who were convicted in the death of a pledge during a hazing ritual on a trip to the Poconos in 2013.

Pi Delta Psi, an Asian American fraternity, has two chapters in Pennsylvania, one at Penn State and the other at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, although that one appears to be inactive.

Penn State officials Tuesday said the chapter is in “good standing” and they were looking into how to proceed.

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

The chapter has about a dozen members and does not have a fraternity house. A message to the Penn State fraternity chapter’s current president was not returned.

Carnegie Mellon also did not respond to inquiries about its chapter, including how it became inactive.

Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington fined the fraternity – which was found guilty of aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter – more than $110,000 and instituted the state ban as a condition of its probation. She underscored the horrific nature of the case, calling it the “most troubling case to me in 19 years,” according to an account of the proceedings in the New York Times.

At a rented Poconos house, Chun Hsien Deng, 18, of Queens, was blindfolded and loaded down with a sand-filled backpack, then repeatedly shoved and tackled by fraternity members during a ritual known as the “glass ceiling,” meant to represent the plight of Asian Americans. Pledges had to pass through a gantlet of fraternity members during the ritual. Deng became unconscious, and no one sought help for at least an hour.

In handing down her sentence, Patti-Worthington noted the case involving Penn State sophomore Tim Piazza. In February, Piazza, 19, drank copious amounts of alcohol during an alleged hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, fell down the stairs, and languished on a couch for nearly 12 hours before anyone called for help. He died the next day. Twenty-six fraternity members face a range of charges in his death.

Camera icon Abby Drey
FILE – In this May 5, 2017, file photo, Centre County, Pa., District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, left, announces findings in an investigation into the death of Penn State University fraternity pledge Tim Piazza, seen in photo at right, as his parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, second and third from left, stand nearby during a news conference in Bellefonte, Pa. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

In discussing the danger of hazing, Patti-Worthington said: “You only need to look at Penn State these days to understand,” according to the the New York Times’ account.

Penn State has cracked down on fraternities in the wake of Piazza’s death. More than a dozen chapters are on suspension.

Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn, applauded Patti-Worthington’s fraternity sentence, as well as sentences handed down Monday to four of its members, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension. Their sentences ranged from 342 days to 24 months.

“In order for there to be real and meaningful change and to eradicate this bad behavior that continues to be all too prevalent,” the Piazzas said, “prosecutors and the court systems throughout the country need to take a tougher stance on these types of crimes.”

Doug Fierberg, who has represented many clients in lawsuits against fraternities and is representing the Dengs in multiple civil suits against Pi Delta Psi and its members, also was heartened by the rulings.

“It recognizes that chapters are agents and mere extensions of national fraternities and they are responsible for the injury and death caused across this country for decades,” he said.

He said he’s not aware of any other cases in which a judge banned a fraternity statewide for a specified number of years.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference, while calling the allegations against the fraternity “very disturbing,” questioned the fairness of punishing chapters at other universities in Pennsylvania.

“We have long held the position that individuals who haze, and anyone who attempts to cover up alleged hazing, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Will Foran, the group’s vice president for campus operations, who noted that Pi Delta Psi is not a member of the conference. “With that said, we feel that this decision disregards the due process rights of Pi Delta Psi members at other institutions across the state, who are in no way connected to this chapter or incident.”