The second day of the third Beta Theta Pi preliminary hearing highlighted the difference between forced drinking and voluntary alcohol consumption among pledges during the night of Timothy Piazza’s hazing death.
Throughout Thursday morning, the prosecution continued Wednesday’s direct examination of Dave Scicchitano, the lead State College Police detective in the Beta Theta Pi case.
Using the basement video evidence, the prosecution went through all 12 defendants, tracking their location and participation as the social activities progressed on Feb. 2, 2017.
All former defendants, except for house manager Braxton Becker, are facing potential charges of hazing and furnishing liquor to a minor.
During cross examination, attorney Brian McMonagle, who is representing former brother Jonathan Kanzler, said many pledges drank alcohol by their own free will.
Parks Miller has previously said Piazza never obtained a drink for himself after the “gauntlet” drinking obstacle course.
McMonagle said pledge Samuel Black did not believe he was “forced” to drink alcohol until he spoke with former district attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who leveled charges against the members.
In addition, McMonagle asked Scicchitano if other pledges and Trilogy members who gave pledges drinks had charges brought against them. Scicchitano replied no — only brothers seen giving pledges a sip or more of alcohol were charged with reckless endangerment.
From the video evidence shown, the Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office highlighted instances in which defendants directly handed bottles of alcohol to people under the age of 21 and forced them to drink out of wine bags before Piazza’s fatal fall down the fraternity house’s basement steps.
In one situation, Scicchitano addressed former brother and defendant Donald Prior, who was in the courtroom both days of the proceedings. Scicchitano suggested Prior had “forced” pledge Nick Crane to drink from a bottle, after Crane shook his head no.
One pattern throughout the prosecution’s argument on Thursday morning was every defendant who allegedly provided alcohol to pledges had no other interaction with them throughout the social.
“This morning the attorney general’s office was methodically and carefully doing what they have done so well in this hearing which is to go through the evidence piece by piece by piece,” Tom Kline, the Piazza family attorney, said.
According to testimony, 12 of the 14 pledges were under 21 years old. Scicchitano said the Interfraternity Council registration would provide the age to the fraternity at the time.
Later, he confirmed this through citing text messages between social chair of Beta Theta Pi, Joseph Ems, Jr., and Piazza. According to Scicchitano, the text messages showed Ems found Piazza’s registration that would contain such information.
“Individual by individual, there were young men in this fraternity who very well knew that they were in the process of hazing and they were in the process of furnishing alcohol to underage individuals,” Kline said. “Not just Tim Piazza but to others ,as well.”
Ems, known as “Joe from Beta Theta Pi” in GroupMe messages, invited the pledges to drinking events, knowing their age, the detective testified. Scicchitano even said Ems would tell the pledges to cover the IFC wristbands disclosing their age.
The prosecution also used the previous injury of former brother Kordel Davis to establish the brothers had the intent and knowledge of hazing activities.
Many defense attorneys denied these allegations, as they said their clients only participated with the pledges through the social, after the “gauntlet” had ended.
Kline instead said the social was a “continuation of a process which was formalized, ritualized hazing but was then turned into a secondary process of a continuation of supplying alcohol to young men who have already gone through a ritual hazing and have already been fed large amounts of alcohol.”
During both the direct and cross examinations, Scicchitano discussed tampered evidence in regards to the video footage of the fraternity house’s basement, which would show Piazza passed out and in physical harm.
Scicchitano revealed during direct examination that the State College Police Department received a search warrant to examine footage from two DVR boxes from the house. However, the footage from DVR box 2, which recorded the basement, did not begin until Feb. 6, 2017, four days after the social with the Trilogy, a defunct sorority, took place.
DVR box two was sent to the FBI, which was able to uncover video from before Feb. 6. A review of the system settings revealed all footage was manually deleted from the system.
Becker was the sole operator of the boxes, according to Scicchitano. He ran them, had access to them and possessed a key to the video room.
Separate text messages between Becker to former brothers Daniel Casey and Adam Mengden were also brought up, in which they discussed erasing the footage.
Becker texted Casey, “We should be good on that front at least,” referencing deleted video footage.
After Mengden texted Becker that deleting the footage “could be the look,” Becker responded he could lie and say the cameras were not working.
In January 2017, a maintenance worker did in fact visit the Beta Theta Pi house because some of the cameras were not working.
Cross examination of Scicchitano was then open to the defendants’ lawyers. Karen Muir, who represents Becker and Reginald Goeke, began the examination.
Scicchitano discussed Becker’s involvement with the basement footage. He said Becker told a detective he was under the impression the cameras were not working before the footage was uncovered.
The detective mentioned footage from the “gauntlet” activities was not deleted by the brothers.
During Muir’s cross examination, Scicchitano also discussed his initial belief that the 911 call from the fraternity was in regards to alcohol overdose.
Scicchitano testified it was also a result of live-in advisor Tim Bream’s advice to the brothers to avoid social media out of respect for the Piazza family and to avoid press leaks shortly after the 19-year-old pledge died.