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Fraternity banned from Pennsylvania for pledge's hazing death

Posted at 3:09 AM, Jan 09, 2018

A national fraternity was banned from operating in Pennsylvania for 10 years and ordered to pay a $112,500 fine for the 2013 hazing death of pledge Chun "Michael" Deng, a student at Baruch College in New York.

Pi Delta Psi, Inc. was found guilty in November on a felony count of involuntary manslaughter and assault, among other charges, though it was acquitted of the more serious charges of third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

The sentence prohibits the fraternity from doing any business within Pennsylvania, according to Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Metzger. That includes operating any chapters or colonies it has in the state. Pi Delta Psi will also have to inform other colleges or universities where it has ever had a chapter of its sentence.

Four individuals were also sentenced Monday after they pleaded guilty in November to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension in Deng's death, which was determined to be the result of a hazing ritual.

Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, Charles Lai and Sheldon Wong were also sentenced Monday for their involvement. Kwan was sentenced to 12 to 24 months in prison, Lam and Wong received 10 to 24 months, and Lai received 342 days to 24 months.

CNN affiliate WNEP reported Lai received time served for his sentence. Each defendant will have seven years probation following their time in prison.

In a victim impact statement, Deng's mother said her son's death feels "like there's a cat clawing and scratching at my heart."

"Since he left," Mary Liu Deng wrote, "the lines between real life and a dream are blurred." She described her son as a "kind, generous, loving person," even when he was a child.

"Now Michael is gone and I cannot understand why," she wrote. "Why would other young men like Michael not value his life like he did theirs? Why would they tackle him and not take care of him? Why did they do this to him?"

"Based on the verdict, I think it's an appropriate sentence," Wes Niemoczysnki, an attorney for Pi Delta Psi, told WNEP, adding that the fraternity will appeal the verdict.

"There can be no question that the death of Michael Deng was tragic," said Todd Greenberg, an attorney for Lam, on Sunday.

"To a lesser extent it's also a tragedy for Mr. Lam and the other young men. They never intended for this to happen," he said, adding Lam had been "guilt ridden for his conduct since the day it happened."

An attorney for Wong told CNN on Sunday, "Sheldon remains, and will always be, deeply saddened and devastated by Michael Deng's death."

Lawyers for the two other individuals could not be reached for comment.

Courts taking harder look at hazing cases

Some experts believe the prosecution and subsequent outcome of the Deng case is a signal that courts are taking a tougher stance on hazing deaths than they have in the past.

Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin College in Indiana and a journalist who has been writing about and tracking hazing deaths for decades, described the fraternity's sentence as "groundbreaking."

"I think it's one of the toughest ever," he told CNN on Monday.

"It's sending a definite message," he continued. "It's sending a message that (national fraternities) are considered -- by this court and by the judge -- to be accountable when one of their pledges are killed."

Nuwer previously said the verdict against Pi Delta Psi and the court's handling of the case showed "huge changes" from when he first started tracking hazing deaths and the criminal proceedings around them in the 1970s.

"Judges are taking it more seriously," Nuwer said Sunday, adding that lawyers who didn't know how to bring a case against fraternities in the past now have greater understanding of how to handle such cases.

Doug Fierberg, an attorney for Deng's family who has represented multiple high profile hazing victims in the past, previously told CNN the verdict showed that "national fraternities can and should be held criminal and civilly responsible for the injury and death caused by their members. The criminal prosecutions shows that can happen and should proceed that way and they can be convicted."

The sentencing came after a deadly year for fraternity pledges. At least four young pledges died in 2017 on the campuses of Pennsylvania State University, Louisiana State University, Texas State University and Florida State University.

Pledge died during hazing ritual

Deng was a freshman when he traveled to a rented house in Pennsylvania's Poconos Mountains for the Asian American fraternity's "crossing over" weekend, according to a criminal complaint.

It was there Deng ultimately suffered and died from a traumatic brain injury while participating in "the glass ceiling," a ritual that required pledges to run through a line of fraternity brothers who shoved, pushed and tackled the aspiring members to the ground.

At some point, Deng, who was blindfolded and wearing a weighted backpack, fell, struck his head and was immediately unconscious, according to police. Some fraternity members placed Deng by a fire while others searched the internet for his symptoms and tried to wake the pledge.

Meanwhile, the criminal complaint said, other fraternity members were told by a member and the national fraternity president to "protect the fraternity and hide all the memorabilia" from police -- including clothes, fraternity paddles, banners and signs. They were also instructed to conceal cellphones, marijuana and mushrooms, the complaint said.

Deng arrived at a nearby hospital for treatment 2 hours after he was injured -- a delay that a forensic pathologist concluded "significantly contributed to the death of Mr. Deng," the complaint said.

Deng's death was ruled a homicide.