Beta Theta Pi attempted to conceal evidence, grand jury says

An investigation by State College police into the death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza revealed a history of hazing and alcohol abuse by the supposedly “dry” fraternity, as well as an attempt to cover up Piazza’s fall.

All information was determined after a monthslong investigation by the Centre County grand jury and presented in its findings of fact.

According to the “Beta Theta Pi Fraternity Spring 2017 New Member Manual” given to the grand jury by fraternity President Brendan Young, no alcohol is allowed on the premises of 220 N. Burrowes St., with the risk of expulsion if caught. Consumption of alcohol must be in compliance with all applicable laws, it further states, and no member shall encourage or participate in “drinking games.”

One member testified to the coordinated efforts of fraternity members to purchase alcohol for events, even though Beta claims to be a dry fraternity. The member reportedly admitted alcohol was served during the party attended by Piazza.

Testimony by State College police Detective David Scicchitano revealed receipts were recovered showing about $1,180 in alcohol was purchased by the fraternity between Jan. 25 and Feb. 2. The alcohol was reportedly purchased by Beta member Craig Heimer.

One Beta pledge, who participated in the bid acceptance ritual the night of Feb. 2, testified to attending three recruitment events in which the fraternity provided alcohol to potential new members. He was reportedly told to cover his wrist band with a watch “so if (Interfraternity Council) does come to a house and see that ... they saw a rush drinking ... they can go after and sanction the house.”

The pledge went on to testify that the night of Feb. 2, pledges were made to drink large quantities of vodka, beer and wine during their bid acceptance ritual.

One member said during an interview with Scicchitano that after consuming an “excessive amount of alcohol” at one event, he fell and hit his head causing profuse bleeding. After the fall, the brothers took him to urgent care but never called 911.

Other members testified to various hazing events, including consumption of several different alcohols at once, drinking “mush” — a mixture of old food and drink — and paddling.

On the morning the fraternity members discovered Piazza, the presentment said, no one attempted to call 911. Members were seen on surveillance video instead attempting to prop him up and dress him.

A forensic analysis of one cellphone revealed a series of internet searches, including “falling asleep after head injury” and “a person with a serious head injury or concussion should be kept awake.” One member recalled a discussion about notifying chapter adviser Tim Bream, but the action was never pursued.

Scicchitano testified to the discovery of a “wealth of information” showing an active attempt to conceal or destroy evidence after Piazza was taken from the fraternity house. Beta members testified to using the app “GroupMe” to message back and forth, but deleting the messages, which are reportedly unrecoverable once gone.

Beta Vice President Ed Gilmartin also allegedly admitted to Scicchitano that he discussed erasing the video surveillance after learning Piazza had died, the presentment said. He also reportedly admitted members were concerned about calling 911 for fear police would discover indications of hazing and underage drinking.

Text messages reportedly recovered from Young’s phone describe Piazza on Feb. 3 as “in shock” and “on the verge of death.” In an exchange with another person, when told he can’t blame himself, Young reportedly replied, “How can I not? I don’t think you fully comprehend the situation. He looked (expletive) dead ...”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews