No criminal charges will be filed in the suicide of an 18-year old Uniondale high school graduate due to the lack of evidence, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced Tuesday.
After a student and the family reported the hazing abuse endured by Marquise A. Braham, the state investigated why Braham had jumped off the roof of the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale in March 2014.
The 2013 graduate of Kellenberg Memorial High School committed suicide on the day he was due to return to his school, Penn State Altoona, officials said.
Braham’s family is suing Penn State, its employees, the fraternity and their son’s fraternity brothers for failing to help him or inform them their son was ill. In a statement they said they were disappointed but not surprised no one was charged because the grand jury was denied evidence showing the hazing led to his death.
But Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s office said in a statement: “The grand jury found no evidence of a link between the fraternity pledging process and Braham’s death,”
The grand jury was presented with two suicide notes Braham wrote, which showed he had considered killing himself a long time before his death, the attorney general said.
She added the grand jury did conclude hazing at Phi Sigma Kappa was a “fraternity-wide problem, and not limited to a few individuals.”
“Those factors, as well as the unwillingness or inability of former pledges to name persons allegedly responsible for the hazing, led the grand jury to decide against the recommendation of criminal charges for certain individuals,” it added.
The abuses underage pledges endured including having their backs burned with candle wax and being bullied into fights, swallowing vinegar and repeatedly drinking 20 to 25 beers before vomiting, the grand jury report said.
The fraternity campus chapter was suspended for six years. Its 14 members were sanctioned. The national fraternity did not return a call for comment.
The school’s statement said it mourned the loss of any community member, adding that in April a task force will recommend how the university can “eradicate the issues of hazing, alcohol and drug use, sexual misconduct and bias,” it said.
“Penn State does not condone physical, verbal or emotional abuse of any kind,” it said.
Mike Paul, the family’s spokesman, said the Brahams sued to obtain justice and ensure no more students are lost through hazing. The father “is hoping other parents don’t have to go through this pain,” he said.
Kane’s office says the report underscores many ongoing issues in the pledging process. “As the grand jury makes very clear in its report, it is imperative that we take steps to protect young college students who are experiencing a vulnerable stage in their lives,” Kane said. “We must do more to prevent these students from falling victim to dangerous situations when many are acclimating to being on their own for the first time.”
Braham was a high school honor student and athlete who mentored other students, the family’s lawsuit said. At Altoona, he was elected the fraternity’s secretary but had deep misgivings about hazing new pledges, the suit says.
The grand jury report describes Braham’s deterioration as his freshman year progressed.
A resident assistant who befriended “Quise” and encouraged him to go through the months-long hazing initially described him as “cute, flirty and fun,” the report said.
But by spring, he had lost so much weight “his cheeks were sunken in,” he would sleep for days, feared what his fraternity brothers would say if he sought conseling, and worried about what his family would say about his grades, the report said..
Saying school employees knew Braham needed medical help, Paul said by telephone: “They had an opportunity to save this young man’s life.”
He faulted the school for its inaction. “They did not do the right thing.”
The family’s statement said the grand jury was “denied access to a substantial amount of evidence detailing the outrageous hazing Marquise experienced and its direct connection to his death.”
Similarly, the grand jury not hear from mental experts or Marquise’s friends and families “who know the truth about the cause of his psychological crises and its direct link to the brutal hazing,” the lawsuit said.