Ohio’s anti-hazing statute and its penalties should be reviewed and likely changed, according to two state Senate Judiciary Committee members.
Senate judiciary chairman Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park) said the state law’s wording of “initiation into” a group may unduly restrict prosecution.
“I did not know that the hazing law ended at the point of that first entry into (a group),” said judiciary committee member Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati). “Obviously, the law does not go far enough.”
The state senators’ comments come against the backdrop of a Penn State University fraternity pledge dying after allegedly being forced to drink to excess and a hazing-related lawsuit brought by a University of Dayton freshman football player.
“That part seems to be too narrow if it could be interpreted that you’re limiting it only to an active initiation,” Bacon told this news organization. “With respect to that part of the code, I think it very well may need to be broadened.”
The first paragraph of Ohio Revised Code 2903.31 — which was enacted March 3, 1983 and never amended — states: “As used in this section, ‘hazing’ means doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”
Bacon said it’s important to have a strong anti-hazing law that protects more than just students entering an organization.
“I don’t know that anyone ever intended to say we’re only going to count this as initiation, but it’s OK your second year in a fraternity and we haze you then, then we can’t use the statute,” Bacon said. “I certainly think it would stand to reason that you could use the hazing statute at any stage, regardless of how long they were in the fraternity or otherwise, the football team, whatever it may be.”
Bacon said Ohio’s penalty for hazing — a fourth-degree misdemeanor with maximums of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine — could be reviewed.
“It may be worth looking into having different tiers (of penalties),” he said.
Ohio law also has a hazing civil liability statute that, like the criminal law, says administrators who knew about or tolerated the hazing could be held accountable. But the civil liability law uses the definition of hazing from the criminal statute, limiting it to “initiation into” a group.
Many hazing policies in Ohio are much more expansive and specific than Ohio’s law.
“If the colleges are already way ahead of the law itself, that basically says that the law is behind the times and maybe we need to update the law if it hasn’t been updated since 1983,” Thomas said.
RELATED: State by state anti-hazing laws
At Penn State, 18 members of the now-disbanded Beth Theta Pi fraternity were charged last month with crimes up to involuntary manslaughter related to the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza.
Piazza was a sophomore who investigators said repeatedly fell down a flight of stairs Feb. 2 after pledges were made to run a gantlet of drinking stations guzzling vodka, beer and wine.
His blood-alcohol level was .40 — five times the legal limit. Piazza suffered a traumatic brain injury and died Feb. 4.
Security camera video was shown to grand jury members that allegedly showed one fraternity brother slam another into a wall when the first member suggested Piazza needed medical attention.
Investigators said fraternity members tried to cover up what happened and, only several hours later, that they tried to revive him for40 minutes before calling 911.
Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law includes activity “for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.”
The lawsuit against the University of Dayton brought by Max Engelhart claims he was forced to chug high-alcohol drinks like Four Loko as part of a “Mad Dogs” or “Mad Caps” initiation to the UD football team. Defendants include UD football coach Rick Chamberlin, strength coach Jared Phillips and others.
Engelhart, then a 6-foot-1, 270-pound offensive lineman, said he woke up Dec. 8, 2014, covered in his own vomit, feces and urine and with a headache later diagnosed by UD’s team physician as a concussion. Engelhart claims he quit football, left the university and has been prescribed a medicine typically given to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
In Montgomery County Common Pleas Court filings in advance of a July 21 motion to dismiss, UD attorneys wrote: “What is described is not hazing as a matter of law, no matter how many times plaintiff uses the word.”
Like Thomas, Bacon said he hadn’t studied the hazing statute before but that he plans to gather more information, consult colleagues and vet the subject: “I think that, with these two incidents hitting the newspaper and, candidly, (the Dayton Daily News) bringing this to my attention, I think this is something that we should look at.”
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