Twenty-one students and one alum have been indicted following complaints of alleged hazing by local fraternity Pi Alpha Nu.
Police said 22 people are facing criminal misdemeanor charges, including first-degree hazing, second-degree coercion, second-degree criminal nuisance, and second-degree unlawful dealing with a child related to furnishing alcohol to minors. Police expect to arrest five more alumni for similar charges.
Administration ordered the organization, which refers to itself as the “leading innovator of pledging” on its Facebook page, to “cease and desist activities” on Sept. 29 after a student came forward about events that took place off-campus during February and September.
Sixty-nine pages of court documents revealed pledges were allegedly vomited on, urinated on and paddled. The reports also allege pledges were covered with condiments and forced to consume “dog food, raw sardines, clam juice…apple pie with dip spit, [and] baby food” among others.
Not included in that batch of court documents is a criminal summons for Richard Torres, named Pledge Master of the September pledge class, who faces an additional second-degree coercion charge for threatening an ex-pledge.
The threat came after the initial complainant, who pledged the fraternity in February but didn’t join, warned the eight members of the September pledge class of hazing they may endure.
On Sept. 28, outside the Pi Alpha Nu house at 67 Brinkerhoff St., Torres lifted the 19-year-old off the ground by his backpack straps.
“He whispered to me that he knew what I had told the pledges and if I told anyone else, he would break every bone in my body,” he said.
Later that night, the student watched two brothers of the fraternity arrive to a party at 94 Court St. and look for him. From the front porch, he watched and waited until the pair left before having a friend drive him to a residence hall.
After consulting with a couple of resident assistants, he went to University Police at 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 29.
At the time, Peter Bocassi was Assistant Pledge Master. Anthony McClea was Apprentice Assistant Pledge Master. The student told police he remembers Torres performing much of the hazing.
The student told University Police that while pledging, he and one other student had been barricaded inside the house, as brothers placed 2×4 lumber brackets across front and back doors.
“The brothers blindfolded us and tied our hands behind our backs… They locked us in the bathroom, played loud music and banged on the walls all night,” he said.
“On another occasion, we had to remove hot items from the oven with our bare hands. We also had to sort M&Ms by color on the floor, under a black light, while the brothers stood around us in a circle and vomited on us,” he said.
He decided to quit the pledging process after a brutal beating with paddles.
The student describes being bent over, told to drop his pants and held by Torres and McClea. His “big,” Matthew Brady, put a wallet in his mouth.
Excluding the most recent pledge class, the brothers took turns doling out paddle hits.
One report mentioned youngest brothers were permitted two hits, oldest brothers got three, and Pledge Master and Assistant Pledge Master took five each. Someone would announce the names of those hitting with phrases such as “batter up” and “now batting…”
“At one point, I broke away and was on the floor, crying, telling them ‘[expletive] this, I’m done. I don’t want to be part of the frat anymore.’ They didn’t listen,” Brady’s “little” said.
Soon after, he texted Brady and told him he was quitting. The fraternity’s former president, name redacted in police reports, texted the student to meet with him. The ex-president made him delete his texts and instructed him to say that, if interviewed, he didn’t receive a bid or partake in the pledging process.
University Police and Plattsburgh City Police took eight voluntary statements from September pledge class members.
The pledges described having to cook the brothers’ meals, perform skits and answer questions related to the fraternity.
“Whenever we got something wrong, we would eat something off the floor,” another 19-year-old reported. “I had to eat baby food off the floor.”
“A thing that they made me do is to stick my head in a cabinet and start repeating ‘I’m not crazy, you’re crazy,’ for so long that I actually thought I was talking to somebody,” he said.
One night, brothers formed a ring and shoved pledges, blindfolded, around the circle until they could find a way not to face their backs toward any brother. One pledge laid down on the floor. Another shoved through the bodies until he could get his back against a wall.
Two reports describe pledges were told to open their mouths and swallow something. In both accounts, the item was a live goldfish. In another report, a student said something was inserted into his mouth, but he was told to spit it out. He said he didn’t know what it was.
A notice from President John Ettling’s office said University Police conducted a joint investigation with Plattsburgh City Police and worked with the Clinton County District Attorney’s office in bringing charges.
District Attorney Andrew Wylie declined to comment for this story.
Director of Fraternity/Sorority Life Allison Swick-Duttine also declined to comment for this story.
Attempts to reach Evan Floreck, Pi Alpha Nu President; Jacob Dubay, Interfraternity Council Vice President for Standards; McClea; Torres; and Bocassi were unsuccessful.
Mark Eckert, IFC President and brother of Sigma Tau Gamma, said he hasn’t had contact with Pi Alpha Nu members since the news broke. Eckert said he was “shocked” to learn the details of the hazing.
“Being in a fraternity is supposed to help you grow,” he said. “Hazing breaks down a brotherhood. It divides chapters and creates submissiveness.”
Director of Special Programs and faculty adviser to Pi Alpha Nu Michele Carpentier echoed Ettling’s release.
“I stand behind the statement of President Ettling that hazing is unacceptable in any form,” she said.
Four men were arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on Wednesday and Thursday each and are due back in court in December. Initial appearances will continue through November.
Separate from criminal charges filed with city court, the accused must face a campus judicial process.
Ken Knelly, PSUC Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs, said it’s possible students could face expulsion.
Knelly said he doesn’t believe there is truth to rampant rumors on campus that pledges were forced to raise, kill and/or eat guinea pigs. In one statement, a 22-year-old pledge in the Army Reserves mentioned: “pledges had heard some rumors about eating a gerbil.”
Media liaison for PETA Catie Cryar said that the allegations of animal cruelty, which relate to the gerbils and goldfish, are “disturbing.”
“PETA will monitor this case closely, and we urge anyone with information about it to come forward,” Cryar said.
“The college doesn’t have any tolerance for hazing,” Knelly said. “It’s important we pursue this and work hard to continue to raise awareness.”
Email Rebecca Natale at firstname.lastname@example.org