Opinion by Hank Nuwer, Moderator
The Sacramento Bee article on how Fresno police are investigating the death of Philip Dhanens, 18, has me alternately applauding and critical. On the one hand, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer has assigned a large number of investigators to the case. He’s also trying to figure how man under 21-year-olds were served, including the possibility of teens under 18 being given alcohol. That’s great.
But he’s waited an awful long time to start investigating. Deaths like this as shown by the badly botched Joe Bisanz death at Indiana University need to be addressed before fraternity members get crafted stories get straight, Theta Chi officials and lawyers advise, and evidence gets tossed.
Dyer said it is too early to determine if hazing occurred at the party. “We’ll be looking at whether or not there was any type of forced consumption of alcohol or whether it was strictly voluntary,” he said.
Nyet. While it may be “voluntary” drinking that pledges did, that does not alter the fact that hazing could have occurred. One of the reasons hazing cases so frequently slip through the cracks is that police chiefs and prosecutors are inadequately informed about hazing education. In other words, like many coaches and fraternity members, it isn’t hazing if it doesn’t meet Chief Dyer’s personal definition of hazing.
The chief seems a dedicated personal servant in his actions so far. I’m confident he’ll go the extra mile to educate himself on conducting a hazing investigation based on the facts of the case, not his opinion. Here’s a starting point, Chief:
Fact: In states that have laws against hazing consent of the victim can’t be used as a defense in a civil suit. This is because even if someone agrees to participate in a potentially hazardous action it may not be true consent when considering the peer pressure and desire to belong to the group.