Aggravated hazing? Or aggravated Nifonging?

Last night I was reminded that there are murderous Muslim hardliners in this country who are determined to wage a sort of culture war against alcohol.

Fortunately (at least so I like to think), their efforts are laughable, and ultimately doomed to failure, as we already tried a "Noble Experiment" called Prohibition, and it failed. So, there's an overwhelming cultural consensus that prohibition of alcohol did not work. And people are responsible for their own actions where it comes to drinking.


Not so fast, if this story is any indication:

(8/04/07 - TRENTON, N.J.) - Two Rider University officials, including the dean of students, and three students were indicted Friday in the death of a freshman after a drinking binge at a campus fraternity house.

The school dissolved the Phi Kappa Tau chapter Friday, and authorities said the charges should send a message to students and administrators alike.

"The standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully," prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. said.

Come again? A student acts like an idiot and drinks himself to death, and the dean is arrested?

Not in America. Please, someone, say it's not true!

Looking at the allegations, there's no question that he was seriously drunk. And that he told his friends (what a shock!) that he would be drinking:

DeVercelly's blood alcohol level at the time of his death was .426, authorities said.

Friends of the freshman said DeVercelly, 18, told them he would be drinking vodka during pledge initiation at the fraternity house, The Times of Trenton has reported.

The five officials and students charged were:

-- Ada Badgley, 31, of Lawrenceville, the university's director of Greek life.

-- Anthony Campbell, 51, of Lawrenceville, the dean of students.

-- Adriano DiDonato, 22, of Princeton, residence director and house master of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.

-- Dominic Olsen, 21, of Kenilworth, pledge master of Spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class.

-- Michael J. Tourney, 21, of Randolph, the chapter president.

If convicted, the officials and fraternity members would face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

But what did the university employees do? Stand over him and pour vodka down his throat?

The prosecutor will not say, exactly. He just remarks the obvious -- that a lot of booze was consumed:

Bocchini wouldn't discuss evidence in detail, but he has said previously that the investigation revealed some of the pledges drank entire bottles of hard liquor in under an hour.

Twenty-three other people face charges of providing alcohol to minors or underage drinking related to the event. Three students also face drug charges after a search of the fraternity house, Bocchini said.

A message left at Badgley's university office was not immediately returned and a home number was not listed. Campbell didn't immediately return a call to his house. Phone numbers for the three university students also were not listed and it was unclear if any had attorneys.

What the hell is going on?

All I can see is a statement that "the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully." Is "not policing carefully" now a criminal offense? What is the exact charge?

When I was a landlord in Berkeley I rented to students, and plenty of them drank, I'm sure. Was that my fault? How far does this "policing" go? Should the students' residences be subject to search? (Remember, these are not children; they are legal adults.) What is the dean supposed to do, and why stop with booze? If a fraternity threw a party where sex occurred and condoms weren't used and someone got an STD (say, AIDS), would they charge him with "not policing carefully"? Should the dean go into the students' bedrooms and crawl around with a flashlight?

I'm smelling an anti-alcohol, neo-prohibitionist campaign of some sort.

(Either that or Nifong changed his name and got rebadged as a New Jersey DA.)

This is fast becoming a national story. The San Jose Mercury News and the Chicago Tribune have picked it up, and I'm sure a lot more will follow.

These aren't exactly chump charges either. From the Tribune:

If convicted, the officials and fraternity members would face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
For what? "Aggravated hazing" seems to be the only charge described.

Maybe the DA just wants attention after all.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Inquirer has more, but I'm still unclear on how the dean's conduct was criminal in nature:

Bocchini would not disclose the evidence that resulted in a grand jury indicting the five. However, he previously has said the investigation revealed some of the pledges drank bottles of liquor in less than an hour.

The grand jury found that the five "knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated or engaged in conduct" that resulted in injury to DeVercelly, as well as William Williams, a freshman who required hospital treatment but survived, Bocchini said.

In the case of the officials, the grand jury looked at the way they handled oversight of the Greek organizations on campus, Bocchini said.

"To Rider's credit - unfortunately, after the fact - they immediately took steps," Bocchini said of Rider's new policies to curb campus drinking, including banning alcohol at fraternity parties.

The "way they handled oversight"? So, by not setting a school policy prohibiting alcohol at parties (never mind that many students are over 21), you're committing a major felony?

Remind me not to go into the dean business.

It's getting easier and easier to be a felon these days!

AND MORE: Bocchini hits jackpot makes the New York Times:

The charges against the Rider officials, who were not present at the fraternity house at the time of the hazing, represent one of the first cases in the country in which a university or college official has been held criminally responsible for excessive student drinking.

It is much more common for students, or their families, to file civil lawsuits against the institutions or their officials over drinking, hazing and other student misconduct, several education lawyers and prosecutors said yesterday.

Joseph L. Bocchini Jr., the Mercer County prosecutor, said yesterday that while the charges might not prevent under-age drinking on campuses, they would send a message that such activities could have legal consequences. If convicted of aggravated hazing, the five charged face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"If it doesn't send a message, then colleges and universities are asking for trouble in the future," Mr. Bocchini said.

Perhaps my legal education was an anomaly, but in law school I do remember being taught that public prosecutor's job is to uphold the law, and to seek justice.

I don't remember the "sending a message" part.

I could see a partisan organization like MADD wanting to do this, but DAs are not supposed to advance partisan agendas. I might be wrong, but something about the stated goal of the prosecution being to "send a message" to "colleges and universities" sounds like deliberate partisan grandstanding.

MORE: On a more cheerful note, the Times reports some encouraging student remarks:

....several students on campus said that university officials could hardly be blamed for students who drink too much. "If a student chooses to do it, that's not the dean of students' fault," said Hamzah Abushabun, 18, a freshman.

Courtney Allen, 19, also a freshman, said that students had to police themselves and that Mr. DeVercelly was responsible for his actions.

I like seeing evidence of young people defying the system by actually engaging in common sense!

MORE: The Mercer County DA has now acheived international stardom!

posted by Eric on 08.04.07 at 10:00 AM


This story proves yet again that any DA with a little experience and a lust for publicity can the average grand jury to indict a potted plant. The whole process is badly broken; thoughtless or poorly educated grand jurors are manipulated like litte children. Nifong did it. Bochinni did it. It happens every day. A sad spectacle for American jurisprudence.

Laura   ·  August 4, 2007 7:22 PM

This is truly frightening. There needs to be a special agency with the power to arrest, try, and imprison rogue public officials, especially prosecutors.

Ann Frank   ·  August 5, 2007 9:29 AM

The only silver lining here is that this may give a few college administrators pause to consider whether the nanny state and it's attendant failure to hold individuals accountable for their own actions is really such a great idea

John Q Liberty   ·  August 5, 2007 11:49 AM

Not really. The college has a legal "in loco parentis" obligation long established in US law. If there has been a established pattern of dangerous behaviour of students at events over which the college has some authority (the fact that greek houses operate under an agreement with the college provides this authority), then the college has an legal obligation to try and mitigate this behaviour. A death that could have been reasonably prevented by the college taking actions they didn't are punishable by appropriate criminal statute

Anonymous   ·  August 5, 2007 12:15 PM

Following this thinking, we should charge police as co-conspiritors in murders that take place in their beat. After all, they weren't policing properly, were they?

Tomymous   ·  August 5, 2007 12:57 PM

My youngest brother was killed by a drunk driver that had multiple previous offenses for DUI. Under this reasoning the cops, judges and lawyers that failed to keep this guy from driving are at fault. Maybe I can get them charged. Fat chance, you can't get a cop charged with manslaughter in this country even is it was broad daylight and there were 35 witnesses that the cop did it. Why you ask? The answer is again prosecutors, not only can they get grand jury to indict a potted plant as Laura says but they can also use the same grand jury to whitewash all kind of police abuse. We're getting screwed here people.

Dave_D   ·  August 6, 2007 12:26 PM

This Facebook group has over 750 members. Please help support our administrators.

Support Dean Campbell/Ada at Rider

Common Interest - Beliefs & Causes

We, the students and alumni of Rider University, express our support for Dean Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley in the wake of their recent indictments.
As a result of their careers and personal attributes, both Dean Campbell and Ada have touched the world of so many students, many of whom would not be who they are today without their advice and support. Dean Campbell and Ada have dedicated their lives to creating and maintaining an environment that fosters the personal and intellectual development of Rider's students. Undeniably, tragedy struck Rider's campus in March, but prosecuting the administration, particularly two of its most caring and influential members, is deplorable. Many students have come to call Rider home and although our community has suffered, prosecuting Dean Campbell and Ada is unwarranted; we look to these exemplary individuals to rebuild our fractured community.
Aside from the many lives that Dean Campbell and Ada have reached personally, they have both strived to ensure the safety of Rider students, Greek and independent. Not only does Rider University have an anti-hazing policy, which students are educated on, but the Office of Greek Life has distributed thorough records of information regarding the harmful effects of aggressive drinking. The Office of Greek Life also succeeded in receiving the approval of creating six Greek house director positions, granting each Greek house a professional staff member responsible for the oversight of building operations and activities. In addition, alcohol awareness programming is provided throughout the campus. In the wake of DeVercelly's tragic death, the Task Force has implemented many changes regarding alcohol on campus. Included in this is the forbiddance of alcohol at Greek events as well as drastic changes in the alcohol policy for the entire campus. Many of these precautions and revisions are results of the work and dedication of Dean Campbell and Ada. We also recognize the difficulties faced by three of our classmates; we offer our most sincere hopes to them and their families for a positive resolution to this incident.
As students, we appreciate that part of the college experience is becoming your own person, making independent decisions and learning from mistakes. We value its teachable moments, knowing that our time invested in college is not flawless. Dean Campbell and Ada have been guides to many of Rider's students as we have traveled through college, finding ourselves in the process. Regardless of whether we're alumni or current students, we've all been welcomed into Rider and counseled along the way by Dean Campbell and Ada. As students, we never really think that we can show our appreciation for extraordinary faculty and memorable administrators but through this injustice, we have been given the opportunity. The alumni and students of Rider University stand beside Dean Campbell and Ada, exemplifying our Community Values Statement--"through the time we spend here, we are forever joined to each other and to Rider University."

The Rider University Student Body, Both Past and Present

Kelly Williams   ·  August 6, 2007 2:46 PM

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