Penn State Fraternity Pledge – Whistleblower Files Complaint Aimed At Halting Hazing Violence at PSU-Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) and Elsewhere – Lawsuit Details The “House of Honor” That Was Actually A “House of Horrors
Press Release: Philadelphia, PA (June 8, 2015) – They are called ‘brothers’, but the ongoing and unabated physical violence, psychological intimidation, drug dealing, and sexual exploitation by members of Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) chapter were anything but victimless or brotherly. Those alarming allegations are contained in a complaint filed today against the fraternity, its national organization, and the University on behalf of the victimized pledge who first alerted PSU – and then after it failed to act – police about the outrageous conduct that was promoted on the fraternity’s private Facebook page.
Philadelphia-based trial attorney Aaron J. Freiwald, of Freiwald Law, P.C., represents 21-year-old James Vivenzio, the former KDR pledge and hazing victim. He announced the filing (Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, April Term, 2015 No. 001671] today and joined Mr. Vivenzio in thanking supporters that have rallied to support him and his efforts to eliminate sexual violence on campuses. In that regard, Mr. Vivenzio and his legal team have launched www.endhazingnow.com, a website devoted to his case and the broader campaign to end hazing violence.
“Mr. Vivenzio blew the whistle on KDR because he feared that what happened to him and other pledges – from being burned with cigarettes, branded with clothes hangers, and poisoned with alcohol – would continue until something catastrophic occurred, possibly a death,” explained Mr. Freiwald. “He realizes that the justice system – not the University based on its abandonment of him – is the best hope for ensuring that what happened to him and the other victims cannot reoccur on the Penn State campus.”
Mr. Freiwald noted the hypocrisy of the fraternity that failed to protect Mr. Vivenizo and others. “KDR’s motto, touted above its entrance, is ‘Honor Above All’, but now we know it was in reality a house of horrors.”
According to the complaint, the defendant fraternity members and its affiliates were responsible for, among other abuses:
- Inflicting, in James’ case, physical abuse that included cigarette burns to the arm and blows about the face. Other members of his pledge class of 19 freshmen were branded with hot clothes hangars. Hazing, which lasted more than two months, was 24/7 during “Hell Week”. In every instance, there is photographic documentation of hazing that was provided to the authorities.
- Forcing Mr. Vivenzio and other pledges – who were all underage at the time – to drink during the regular “Line ups” in the basement bucketfuls of alcohol mixed with urine, hot sauce, and other mystery ingredients until the point of vomiting. Alumni also participated in “alcohol hazing,” forcing pledges to guzzle hard liquor until vomiting was induced.
- The production and distribution over the internet of the so-called Facebook 2.0 “Covert Business Transactions” page – distributed to more than 140 KDR members, including alumni – that depicted drug dealing and, without consent, nude, or partially clothed, inebriated and/or passed out female and male visitors to the fraternity.
For its role, the University, including its organizations entrusted with overseeing fraternities, was responsible for failing to:
- Enforce its own widely publicized anti-hazing policies and procedures. Mr. Vivenzio recalled being told at the earliest stages of pledging that the fraternity abided by the zero tolerance, no-hazing rules. He quickly learned that was hardly the case. He asserted that information about his initial email to PSU’s anonymous hazing hotline to report the misconduct was quickly transmitted back to KDR, betraying his trust and placing him in physical danger.
- Supervise the operations of KDR that had a long history of rule breaking leading to sanctions, including criminal charges, liquor violations, and suspension (prior to the suspension imposed following Mr.Vivenzio’s whistle blowing).
- Act in a serious and timely fashion following Mr. Vivenzio’s disclosures, and in a manner to safeguard him from further violence and intimidation. About eight months before he disclosed KDR’s secret Facebook page to police, he met with a Danny Shaha, then senior investigator from the PSU Office of Student Conduct at his family home in Virginia and shared print outs of group text messages and photos from the site that provided clear evidence of the unlawful and dangerous hazing activities at KDR and repeated acts of sexual harassment and abuse at the fraternity. He also told the investigator that he had evidence relating to sexual assault at KDR and could provide access to both the group text messages and the Facebook site. This was the same Facebook site that he would later share with State College police prompting its criminal investigation.
According to the complaint, “Penn State recklessly and unconscionably sat on the information Whistleblower Vivenzio had first brought the Penn State’s attention, causing further harm to Mr. Vivenzio and to untold numbers of students whose injuries and damages from hazing and sexual misconduct could have been prevented had Penn State acted quickly, responsibly and decisively.”
Mr. Freiwald noted that the complaint contains a demand for a jury trial and requests punitive damages as well as compensatory damages. “A jury should ultimately decide the proper punishment for the harm inflicted upon Mr. Vivenzio, and send a message that enough is enough,” he said.