A grand jury has recommended charges against 37 fraternity members from a Manhattan college after a freshman died following a hazing ritual in December 2013. During a weekend retreat to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, members of the Baruch College chapter of Pi Delta Psi blindfolded four pledges and had them run across a frozen field while wearing a backpack full of sand as members tackled them. The New York Times reports that 19-year-old Michael Deng was hit several times and complained that his head hurt, but kept participating. After he was knocked unconscious, the fraternity brothers took him back to the house, changed his clothes, Googled his symptoms, and called the frat’s national president, who allegedly told them to hide Pi Delta Psi items. Deng was having trouble breathing when three brothers finally drove him to the hospital, and he died the next morning of severe head trauma. The medical examiner said the delay “significantly contributed” to his death.
Five brothers will face charges of third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and aggravated assault. The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is 20 years in prison. Others will face charges including hindering apprehension, hazing, and criminal conspiracy.
E. David Christine, the district attorney in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, said the investigation took nearly two years because authorities had to “try and make sure people were put in the right category of involvement.” Hugh Mo, an attorney for Danny Chen, who faces some of the lesser charges, said it’s “regrettable that the DA and the Grand Jury made no distinction as to the individual culpability of each of the young man who was present.” He added that he believes some of the defendants will be acquitted and, “the tragic death of Michael should not be used to ruin the life of so many young Asian American college students, the bulk of them [who] fully cooperated with the DA and testified before the grand jury.”
The Deng family has filed a wrongful-death suit against the college and the fraternity, and said they plan to add the individual students to the suit. “Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970,” they said in a statement. “Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one.”