Penn State seeks to buy fraternity house in pledge death
A lawsuit is asking a court to order a fraternity house where a pledge suffered fatal injuries during a night of drinking and hazing last year to be sold to Penn State University.
The complaint filed Monday in Centre County argues that a 1928 deed gives the university the right to force the sale of the Beta Theta Pi property and house once it stops being used as a fraternity.
The school wants the price to be set by an arbitrator or another court-mandated process, and it says the fraternity house has disputed whether it has the right under the nearly century-old deed to compel the sale.
Penn State said the owners have been issued a rooming house and rental house permit.
The national fraternity closed down, and the university decertified the fraternity chapter after the February 2017 death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.
Piazza’s death resulted in related criminal charges against about two dozen fraternity members and led lawmakers to pass anti-hazing legislation .
A Penn State spokesman said if the lawsuit is successful, the school hopes to put the property toward a “positive purpose” that has not yet been determined. It will not be a fraternity or sorority, he said.
Tom Kline, a lawyer for Piazza’s parents, called the lawsuit an encouraging development.
“With Beta forever banned from Penn State, this structure rightfully belongs in the hands of Penn State to put it to a proper educational use which advances the purposes of the university,” Kline said.
A message seeking comment from the fraternity chapter’s lawyer was not immediately returned.
The lawsuit said that a lawyer for the Beta Theta Pi chapter rejected a purchase offer from Penn State in August and that the two sides could not agree on a deal during a subsequent meeting in September.
The house’s video security system captured Piazza as he first participated in a pledge bid acceptance ceremony, then drank heavily during an ensuing party.
He was injured in a fall down a set of basement stairs that evening, after which members of the fraternity took hapless and even counterproductive steps to address his medical condition.
After spending the night in clear agony on the first floor of the building, Piazza ended up in the basement again, where he was found unconscious the next morning.
Fraternity members waited about 40 minutes to summon an ambulance. Piazza later died at a hospital.
The criminal cases against fraternity members have been the subject of long, fiercely contested preliminary hearings, and several have recently taken plea deals. Trials for others are expected early next year.