HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A prominent television news producer who believes his son’s suicide was the result of college fraternity hazing filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Philadelphia on Tuesday against Penn State University, the fraternity and four students.
Marquise Braham was 18 and a student at the university’s Altoona campus when he leapt from the roof of a New York area parking garage last year, soon after resident advisers at the college told supervisors the youth appeared to be suffering a breakdown as a result of hazing by Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, according to the complaint.
“In my family’s opinion, both Penn State and Phi Sigma Kappa severely damaged our son, both physically and mentally, with hazing activities, and even worse, sought to allegedly cover it up by destroying evidence,” Braham’s father, Rich, a managing editor at ABC News, said in a statement.
Braham was not only traumatized by the hazing - which the lawsuit said included having to make a choice between snorting cocaine or being sodomized on video - but also suffered emotional distress when he was expected to in turn haze a group of new pledges to the fraternity, his father said.
The lawsuit said that Braham went to Catholic confession hours before his death, telling a family member he was going to “confess his fraternity sins”.
Of the four students named as defendants, Karly Bish and Maria Mosely were resident advisers at the university, and Eric Traister and Andrew O’Connor are former officers of the fraternity.
None of the four could be reached for comment on Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, Braham alleges Bish initially urged Marquise to participate in the hazing despite its brutal nature.
Bish and Mosely then later informed their supervisor at Penn State that Marquise appeared to be suffering a mental breakdown because of the experience, the complaint said.
The hazing included forcing pledges to collectively drink two kegs of beer and then fill two wastebaskets with vomit, choose between snorting a line of cocaine or being sodomized on video, to fight each other, and to kill, gut and skin squirrels, according to the complaint.
Penn State University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the university, which suspended the fraternity after Marquise’s death, does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit comes at a time of increased national awareness of fraternity hazing. Thirty-seven members of a fraternity at Baruch College in Manhattan are preparing to go on trial in Pennsylvania in connection with the death of a pledge during a hazing ritual.
(This story has been refiled to correct son’s age to 18 in second paragraph, instead of 19)
Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Tom Hogue