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Detective in Piazza Case Says Video Footage from Fraternity Basement Was Erased

by on August 10, 2017 2:25 PM

A State College Police detective says new information has emerged that someone deleted surveillance video from the basement of Beta Theta Pi fraternity before the system was turned over to law enforcement for the investigation of Timothy Piazza’s death.

The revelation came as Det. David Scicchitano testified for a fourth day in the preliminary hearing for 16 former fraternity members charged in connection with Piazza’s death.

Surveillance video from throughout the house has been key in the prosecution's case for what happened the night of Feb. 2 and morning of Feb. 3, during a bid acceptance event for fraternity pledges and social that followed.

After Piazza’s death on Feb. 4 from non-recoverable brain injuries and a life-threatening spleen laceration cause by his fall during the night at the fraternity, investigators obtained the house’s surveillance system.

But, they were told, the cameras in the basement – where some key events occurred -- were not working.

Those cameras could have captured the beginning of the bid acceptance ceremony, when pledges were reportedly given a bottle of vodka and told to finish it. They would have likely provided more evidence related to charges of furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor, as the social event took place mostly in the basement.

Though it’s established Piazza fell head-first down the stairs at 11:22 p.m., footage from the basement may have captured the fall, as well as who witnessed it.

And, those cameras may have answered what exactly happened to Piazza at around 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 3. Piazza was last seen on the first floor cameras walking toward the basement stairs. The next time he was seen was at around 10 a.m. when pledges and brothers carried him into the great room after he was found unresponsive.

Investigators believe Piazza fell down the stairs a second time. Defense attorneys have suggested it is unclear what happened. Piazza was found behind a bar about 30 feet away from the stairs, and was wearing a jacket that he did not have on when he had last been seen on camera.

Scicchitano did not say what information led to the discovery, but testified that there appears to have been footage in the basement from that night and that it was deleted. He said footage on the basement cameras resumed on Feb. 6 and that everything before that had been erased.

He added that police have a suspect who is among the 16 defendants in court on Thursday. Charges related to the video have not been filed as of yet and Scicchitano did not name the suspect.

On cross-examination from Ted Simon, representing Luke Visser, and Leonard Ambrose, representing Joseph Sala, Scicchitano said neither Visser nor Sala were suspects in deleting the video at this time.

Several former members are already facing tampering with evidence charges for alleged efforts to delete group messages and texts and to get rid of evidence of alcohol.

A total of 18 former members and the Alpha Upsilon chapter are charged with a variety of crimes in connection with Piazza’s death. Seven face the most serious charges of aggravated assault, involuntary homicide and simple assault. Two former members who are both charged with tampering with evidence were granted preliminary waivers when the hearing began back in June.

The hearing is expected to continue at least through Friday. At its conclusion, District Judge Allen Sinclair will decide which charges will be bound over for trial

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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