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Newsletter > January 2016 > "Family of Penn State Altoona Suicide Victim Files Lawsuit"
Family of Penn State Altoona Suicide Victim Files Lawsuit
The parents of Marquise Braham, a Penn State Altoona student and Phi Sigma Kappa member who committed suicide on March 14, 2014, have filed a lawsuit alleging various claims against the University, the local and national fraternity, and several individuals.1
The complaint, filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, claims that the Iota Septaton Corporation of Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity forced Braham to participate in hazing rituals that led to Braham’s “psychological crisis” and suicide.2 The alleged hazing included: a “locked in ceremony” where Braham and other pledges were ordered to drink beer over two days until they filled two trash cans with vomit; choosing between snorting a line of cocaine or being sodomized; killing, gutting, and skinning a squirrel; and having a gun pointed at his head.3
The lawsuit claims that, following his initiation into the chapter, Braham was elected to its executive board as secretary, which required him to be present for the hazing of new pledges.4 Braham allegedly “struggled deeply” with participating in hazing, and showed signs of his distress to family members and Penn State staff before his suicide.5 The complaint also alleges that Penn State violated consumer protection laws by referring to “the actual and dangerous risks facing students pledging fraternities” as “myths” on its website and in documentary materials.6 The complaint seeks damages “in excess of $50,000” as redress for negligence, wrongful death, and unfair trade practices.7
Following Braham’s death, Penn State Altoona suspended the Iota Septaton chapter for six years.8 However, a grand jury found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing related to Braham’s suicide, in part because of “the unwillingness or inability of former pledges to name persons allegedly responsible for the hazing.”9 Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane stated, “While one would hope these activities are the exception rather than the norm, we must take action to better safeguard our young students. This is a moment for everyone to consider the issues that students encounter when they arrive on college campuses across the Commonwealth.”10
Braham’s father, Rich, a managing editor for ABC News, said in a statement that “[i]n 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.”11 The statement concluded, “[w]e aim to hold Penn State, and hopefully other universities, accountable to provide accurate information to students and their parents about the dangerous misconduct they know is occurring within Greek Life on campus. . . . That would be an incredible and fitting legacy to Marquise.”12
1 Complaint, Braham v. The Pennsylvania State University, No. 00421 (Pa. C.P. Philadelphia Cnty. Dec. 15, 2015).
2 Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4, 5.
3 Id. at ¶ 37.
4 Complaint at ¶ 48, Braham, No. 00421 (Pa. C.P. Philadelphia Cnty. Dec. 15, 2015).
5 Id. at ¶¶ 49–56.
6 Id. at ¶¶ 64–72.
7 Id. at pp. 20–36.
8 Alex Calderaro, Altoona Fraternity Suspended Six Years Amidst Hazing Investigation, Onward State (Sept. 22, 2014, 4:52 AM), http://onwardstate.com/2014/09/22/altoona-fraternity-suspended-for-six-years-amidst-hazing-investigation/.
9 No Evidence Found of Criminal Wrongdoing in PSU-Altoona Student’s 2014 Suicide, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jan. 5, 2016, 2:28 PM), http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2016/01/05/No-evidence-found-of-criminal-wrongdoing-in-PSU-Altoona-student-s-2014-suicide/stories/201601050193.
11 Press Release, Family of Marquise Braham, Braham Family Filed Lawsuit Today Alleging Penn State & Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity Knew Marquise Braham Was In Crisis Over Severe Hazing Allegations, They Did Nothing & Worse, Sought To Cover It Up! (Dec. 15, 2015), available at http://www.reputationdoctor.com/blog/2015/12/braham-family-filed-lawsuit-against-penn-state-and-phi-sigma-kappa-fraternity.