Penn State

Judge orders forensic experts to handle Beta Theta Pi video

The video footage of the night leading up to Timothy Piazza’s death is once again at the center of a court order.

On May 30, Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler gave both the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi — the fraternity Penn State suspended and later banned after Piazza’s Feb. 4 death — and the State College police 15 days to find “a qualified ‘forensic video analyst’ ” to decide next steps with the video.

The issue is about keeping it safe, with the two sides finding a “method and technique for duplication and preservation of the subject video.”

According to the grand jury presentment, the video shows not just what happened with Piazza’s fall, but what happened all night as the 19-year-old Penn State student went 12 hours without medical treatment while fraternity brothers rolled him over, sat on him, slapped him in the stomach where his spleen was bleeding and talked about what to do, without calling anyone for help. The fraternity and 18 members have been charged.

The court documents detail a timeline laid out for the grand jury with the help of video surveillance footage. The presentment follows video footage of Piazza being handed a drink at 9:21 p.m. at a pledge party to watching him “stagger with great difficulty” around 10:31 p.m. to disappearing toward the basement steps, where he fell 15-feet, “hair first,” according to a group text.

The grand jury presentment tells a story of video showing a limp, unconscious Piazza and attempts to rouse him by slapping him in the face. The footage allegedly shows him rolling off the couch, staggering some more and disappearing toward the stairs again around 7:18 a.m. He is not shown again until he is found once more at the bottom of the stairs at 10 a.m. The 911 call was made 48 minutes later.

The video has not been released. All accounts of the footage come from court documents.

Alpha Upsilon gave the video to State College police on Feb. 6 as the circumstances surrounding the incident were being investigated. Since March, Alpha Upsilon has been trying to recover the video in court. The records of that fight were sealed for a time, as the video was evidence in the grand jury proceedings, but have since been re-opened.

Alpha Upsilon last demanded the return of the complete original video, saying that return was already ordered and that Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller was in contempt of court for not turning it over. In those documents, the fraternity said that when video equipment and some video was returned, it showed “each of the video files modified on or after Feb. 10, 2017.”

“... It is impossible for Alpha Upsilon to determine the files’ authenticity,” the fraternity’s attorney Michael Leahey said in the motion in which he claimed the 12 hours of footage turned over was “neither complete nor certified.”

Parks Miller has denied there was any issue with failing to comply with court orders and said the fraternity’s insistence on recovering the original videos “does not bode well for them.”

Kistler’s latest order demands that 20 identical copies of the video be “made and delivered to this court for safe keeping and possible future dissemination to entitled parties.” If the fraternity and police analysts cannot agree on a method to do that, a conference will be held in Kistler’s courtroom on June 26.

Kistler also gave State College police until Thursday to respond to the prior motion to compel.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce