Hazing News

Rider prosecutor: from grandstand to no stand as flimsy case gets reviewed?

BULLETIN: (updated)
Easy, Rider.
Ada Badgley and Rider Dean Anthony Campbell are free. According to wire stories, the New Jersey prosecutins had no proof of extreme negligence by the two Rider officials.

All he had, it seems, were headlines.

The question we asked last week in a column –What evidence does the prosecutor Joseph Bocchini.have?–has been answered.

Nada. Nothing. Not a whit. Smoke and mirages.

The D.A. had no cards to show to back up his grand jury’s bid for indictments of Badgley and Campbell. He played his two cards and both were jokers.

The trial IS over before it’s over.

But there is no rejoicing. The real losers in this case are the DeVercelly family members who wanted justice and instead got another politician looking for cheap headlines. Bocchini’s handling of the Campbell-Badgley affair also calls into question his failure to charge ADDITIONAL on-the-scene fraternity members with hazing.
Also losing bigtime are future legitimate hazing cases in which some administrator sometime might actually show criminal indifference to hazing.
There have been hazing deaths in the past where college officials, some still working and others retired, should be counting their lucky stars that they were not charged with gross indifference.

In these deaths, photographic evidence in annual yearbooks and chapter archives in prior years showed patterns of dangerous hazing and alcohol abuse that needed to be heeded by those Greek advisers and Deans.
That didn’t seem to be the case with Rider which had a number of hazing awareness steps in place. And both Campbell and Badgley, according to vigorous student and alumni accounts, tried hard to make the Rider campus safe.

And while Dean Campbell and Ada Badgley no doubt are relieved, who can reimburse them for the agony they felt during their humiliating appearances in court and the fact that their arrest record is now a matter of public record?

And what about the Rider president who waited many painful days before announcing his personal belief in the beleaguered staffers? Some of that egg certainly splashed on the president’s suit.
Now the focus must turn to Prosecutor Bocchini. He needs to justify his actions every step of the way in my opinion.

And New Jersey legislators ought to think hard and long about ways to ensure that no family again suffers the loss of a son as the DeVercelly family has done.

–Hank Nuwer

Background below:

Excerpt and link

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office will ask a judge Tuesday to dismiss the indictments of two Rider University administrators, charged just three weeks ago in the drinking death of a freshman fraternity pledge.

Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofri today declined to explain why his office wants to drop hazing charges against the pair, indicted Aug. 3 along with three others in the March 30 death of 18-year-old Gary DeVercelly. But the move appears to be a retreat from the position Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini took when he announced the first-ever indictments of university officials in a hazing case.

“To the colleges in this state, and colleges nationally, (the indictment) sends a clear message: There is a culpability factor in allowing drinking on campus,” Bocchini said at the time. He noted that it was the first time anywhere a university official had been criminally charged in a hazing.

The two indicted administrators are Anthony Campbell, 51, Rider’s dean of students, and Ada Badgley, 31, the school’s director of Greek (fraternity) life. They pleaded not guilty to the charges, which alleged they “did knowingly or recklessly organize, promote, facilitate or engage in conduct” that harmed the fraternity pledge.

Also indicted were the residence director of Phi Kappa Tau, where the alleged hazing rite occurred; the pledge master of the fraternity’s spring 2007 class; and the president of the fraternity. They also pleaded not guilty. All five were charged with aggravated hazing, a fourth-degree felony carrying a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Earlier this month, Rider president Mordechai Rozanski defended his administrators, saying “We know that neither Tony nor Ada was present at the fraternity house, nor did they engage in any of the activities” alleged. Today university spokesman Dan Higgins said the college had no immediate comment on Bocchini’s decision to drop the charges.

Rocco Cipparone of Haddon Heights, Campbell’s attorney, said he was not surprised, as he had reviewed the grand jury transcripts and found “no factual basis” to sustain the charges against his client.

“We’re glad he’s making the motion, and hopeful the judge will grant it,” he said. “I never foresaw this proceeding to trial.”

Douglas Fierberg, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. who has been retained by DeVercelly’s parents, said he was “very concerned” by the prosecutor’s motion.

“We have reason to believe that there was significant involvement by at least one university employee” in DeVercelly’s death, he said, referring to the fraternity residence director, Adriano DiDonato, 22. The lawyer said DiDonato is supervised by Badgley, who reports to Campbell.

Bocchini, the prosecutor, has scheduled a press conference following Tuesday’s hearing at 10 a.m. before Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek in the Mercer County criminal courthouse.

DeVercelly, a native of Long Beach, Calif., collapsed at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus and died the following day. Another pledge also suffered alcohol poisoning, but survived. Investigators said the two were among 14 pledges participating in a night of binge drinking known as “big/little night,” a traditional event of the pledging season.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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