STATE COLLEGE Two Penn State students have been charged with ethnic intimidation after they admitted last week to vandalizing property near a predominantly Jewish fraternity in November, State College police said.
Eric Hyland, 19, of Export, and Hayden Grom, 19, of New Fairfield, Conn., spray-painted swastikas, anti-Semitic slogans and other graffiti on a dozen vehicles, a trash bin and garage in the vicinity of the fraternity Beta Sigma Beta, police said Monday.
The vandalism was discovered the morning of Nov. 8 in the rear of that fraternity and Delta Sigma Phi on the 400 and 500 blocks of Berry Alley. The graffiti also consisted of sexual and graphic language, sexual images, the initials “KKK” and other scribbling.
State College Police Chief Tom King said Hyland and Grom may not have set out to target the Beta Sigma Beta, but that they knew it was a predominantly Jewish fraternity.
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“They knew what they were doing,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s what they initially set out to do. They initially set out to create vandalism, but not necessarily to target this fraternity. But when they were doing it, they knew it was a predominantly Jewish frat.
“They knew what they were doing was offensive.”
Police wrote in a criminal complaint that both men confessed and were apologetic, with Hyland allegedly telling investigators it was the most regrettable decision he has made in his life.
The men admitted to drinking and being intoxicated when they caused the vandalism, police said.
Hyland and Grom were members of Acacia fraternity, but police said the investigation revealed the pair were acting alone and not under the direction of the group.
“We are very confident based on the investigation this wasn’t led by, directed by or orchestrated by any frat in the system,” King said. “In fact, the organization cooperated with us in the case.”
The men have since been expelled from Acacia, officials with the organization said.
Investigators built their case using images taken from surveillance footage and four people who identified Hyland and Grom as suspects.
Police said the first person to come forward provided “valuable information that significantly aided this investigation.” Police credited Beta Sigma Beta alumni and members and the leaders of Penn State’s Interfraternity Council with help, too.
“People came forward and said ‘This crossed the line, and we aren’t going to stand for it,’ ” King said.
University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Hyland and Grom will face a disciplinary hearing before the Office of Student Conduct. She could not comment on what sanctions the students may face, but said the university takes the allegations seriously.
“This is an unfortunate and hurtful incident, and we are glad that so many people were able to assist police in determining the individuals responsible,” Powers said. “Hateful behavior in any form is not acceptable, and perpetrators should be held accountable.”
In addition to a count of ethnic intimidation, Hyland and Grom face charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. All of the charges are misdemeanors.
King said the severity of the criminal mischief charge was tied to how much monetary damage the pair caused, and the ethnic intimidation count is weighted based on the other charges.
“What’s most serious is the nature of the crime, that their acts contained anti-Semitic writings,” he said. “That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Hyland and Grom will be notified of the charges by mail.
In a statement, the Acacia fraternity said fraternity members cooperated with police and that the information they provided may have been instrumental in bringing the charges.
“The actions of these two individuals are contrary to the core values of Acacia and in no way represent the Penn State chapter as a whole, nor any of the other 37 Acacia chapters and colonies across North America,” the statement said. “The chapter has been a pioneer in fostering diversity across religious, ethnic and racial lines, and the membership of today’s brotherhood proudly reflects this history.”