Former Penn State student sues frat, school alleging pattern of sex assaults, 'barbaric' hazing
June 8, 2015 11:49 PM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
This March 17 photo shows the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity house at Penn State University in State College.
Matt Rourke/ Associated Press
Students and others demonstrate on the Penn State campus in March in support of women who police say were depicted on the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity's private Facebook pages.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Vivenzio pledged a fraternity his freshman year at Penn State University, and in a lawsuit filed Monday, the Great Falls, Va., resident said he has physical and emotional scars to show for it.
Mr. Vivenzio, 21, is the former fraternity member of Kappa Delta Rho who alerted State College police to a private Facebook page that contained nude photos of drunk and unconscious female students, as well as males. The resulting investigation drew national attention in March and led Penn State to pull the fraternity’s recognition as a student group, effectively shutting it down.
With Monday’s complaint filed in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, Mr. Vivenzio and his attorney now have gone further, alleging in court a pattern of “reckless, barbaric and life threatening hazing” plus sexual assault, drug sales and other transgressions. The suit names as defendants Penn State and the fraternity and alleges the school did nothing for months — a claim Penn State sharply denied Monday, along with other accusations in the suit.
The lawsuit was filed on a day that the fraternity’s national headquarters in Greensburg said it had expelled 38 Kappa Delta Rho members from the organization, calling their actions inconsistent with its values. Executive director Joseph Rosenberg declined to discuss the lawsuit.
Penn State has declined to say whether any sanctions have been meted out so far against individuals and says it will not acknowledge if any such punishments are eventually imposed.
“The KDR fraternity operated much like a gang, obtaining some of its funding by converting the pre-paid food plans of its pledges and confiscating and selling their prescription drugs,’’ the 30-page complaint alleges. “These funds were then used to pay for countless socials, pre-socials and parties at the fraternity house at which underage students were plied with alcohol and, in some cases, with drugs to facilitate sexual assault and abuse.”
With Mr. Vivenzio and his parents, Robin and Jim Vivenzio, looking on during a news conference, attorney Aaron Freiwald described a culture of physical and psychological abuse of fraternity pledges and others.
State College police, who are conducting a criminal investigation, said the Facebook page had 144 active members including students and graduates. The page also contained derogatory comments.
“There was an image of a young woman who lost control of her bowels from liquor, passed out on a sofa,” Mr. Freiwald said.
The suit alleges that Mr. Vivenzio, who pledged as a freshman in 2012, was subjected to cigarette burns as well as “physically and mentally abusive late-night lineups that featured force-feeding of buckets-full of liquor mixed with urine, vomit, hot sauce and other liquid and semi-solid ingredients.”
The suit also alleges pledges were subjected to potential bodily injury in “gladiator” games.
Mr. Vivenzio pledged through hell week and became a member, but as a result of “extreme hazing” dropped out of Penn State after his freshman year, then entered rehabilitation and therapy programs for alcohol abuse, the lawsuit states. He was readmitted but later left and in early 2015 was hospitalized because of post-traumatic stress disorder after continued trauma, those representing him said.
Mr. Vivenzio said he did not seek to become a whistleblower but went to police after Penn State failed to adequately act over eight months.
“I’m hoping we can end hazing at Penn State and elsewhere,” said Mr. Vivenzio at the news conference.
“What really allowed these horrible things to take place was the attitude and the practice and the culture of this fraternity, of the national fraternity and the university,” Mr. Freiwald said.
Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, said the school “strongly disputes” the allegations and took steps as soon as it was alerted by Mr. Vivenzio in April 2014. She said that at the time, neither Mr. Vivenzio nor his family would pursue the campus disciplinary process or talk with State College police, despite repeated encouragement from university staff.
“Our staff offered him extraordinary assistance on numerous occasions, and went to great lengths to do so over the course of nearly nine months — even sending the director of the Office of Student Conduct to their home to interview them,” she said.
Mr. Vivenzio, she added, did not inform them of the Facebook page. The school learned that from State College police in February, Ms. Powers said. The suit asserts Mr. Vivenzio did offer Penn State documentation.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.