Judge Drops Hazing Charges Against Rider Officials
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday dismissed aggravated hazing charges against two Rider University officials in a case involving the drinking death of a fraternity pledge.
Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek approved a request by Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini to dismiss charges against Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley.
A grand jury indicted the two Rider administrators and three Rider students on Aug. 3 on a charge of aggravated hazing in connection with the death of freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr., 18, of Long Beach, Calif.
The two were considered the only college administrators ever charged criminally in a hazing death, but prosecutors reviewed the case and decided the evidence was insufficient to prove the charges against the two officials beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We could not meet our burden of proof,” Assistant Prosecutor Skylar Weissman said.
DeVercelly father, Gary DeVercelly Sr., decried the decision.
“We’re upset about it, that the charges are being dismissed, because we feel that Rider has responsibility — definitely has responsibility — in this issue,” he said by phone from California.
He said no decision has been made whether to file a civil lawsuit against the university.
But Bocchini said the officials neither facilitated nor promoted the party at which DeVercelly drank. He said neither official was even on campus that night.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure that justice is done,” Bocchini said. “I believe we’ve accomplished that today.”
DeVercelly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.426 percent when he was pronounced dead on March 30, authorities said. He died a day after drinking at a party at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity on the private college’s campus.
Attorneys for the Rider officials welcomed the judge’s decision.
“Ms. Badgley cannot be guilty of a crime for something that she did not participate in or have knowledge of,” said her attorney, David Laigaie.
Campbell attorney Rocco Cipparone Jr. said he wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“It’s one that we always foresaw and always thought was the correct and only result,” Cipparone said. “But, you know, Dean Campbell remains concerned his reputation has been sullied by this process. Things always have a forever life on Google.”
Campbell and Badgley both took leaves of absence from their jobs and were defended by the university president.
Laigaie said Badgley returns to work immediately; Cipparone said Campbell returns on Thursday.
Rider University President Mordechai Rozanski said the college will now turn attention to implementing reforms for the fall semester, such as a campus-wide alcohol ban and a new online alcohol education program for all freshmen.
“It is our desire that Rider University stand as a model in the fight to combat alcohol abuse on campus,” Rozanski said.
Bocchini emphasized the charges were filed by an independent grand jury and defended his office’s decision to take three weeks to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
He said the grand jury met from June 6 to July 27. After the Aug. 3 indictment, the prosecutor’s office ordered grand jury transcripts and received them on Aug. 15, Bocchini said. They reviewed the transcripts and recorded statements given to police, he said, and held an Aug. 20 meeting to discuss the charges against Campbell and Badgley.
He said he and four assistant prosecutors decided unanimously to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
“If you’re suggesting this took a long time, I don’t understand that,” Bocchini said.
The grand jury also indicted Adriano DiDonato, 22, a student and residence director and house master of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house; Dominic Olsen, 21, pledge master of Spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class; and Michael J. Torney, 21, the chapter president.
Bocchini said the charges against the three students remain.
If convicted, the three students face up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. They’ve all pleaded not guilty.