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A New York City college freshman killed during a hazing ritual was "singled out" for brutal treatment by his fraternity brothers — who now face charges ranging from murder to conspiracy, police said on Tuesday.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner declined to say why Pi Delta Psi members were harder on Michael Deng than they were on four pledges who ran a gauntlet before him during a weekend retreat in December 2013.
On the snowy grounds of a rented house in northeastern Pennsylvania, the 19-year-old Baruch College student was blindfolded, weighed down with a sand-filled backpack, and forced to run while being repeatedly tackled.
"Some of these tackles were described as a spearing," Wagner said, explaining that the frat members on the sidelines launched themselves headfirst at the defenseless teen during a ritual they called "Glass Ceiling."
"He had complained that his head was hurting and he was tackled again," Wagner said at a news conference to announce pending and just-filed charges against 37 frat members and alumni and Pi Delta Psi itself.
"The overall investigation shows he was singled out and he was treated harsher than the other pledges," Wagner said.
Police say that instead of immediately getting help for an unconscious Deng, some of the students focused on covering up the fact that the gathering was a fraternity event.
The medical examiner determined the delay in medical treatment — between one and two hours — "significantly contributed" to Deng's death.
After a long-running grand jury investigation, the Monroe County District Attorney's office has filed charges against five men, and plans to gradually bring charges against another 32, beginning with those accused of less serious offenses.
Five of the frat members will be charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, hindering apprehension, and criminal conspiracy.
"There's a variety of different levels of responsibility and involvement," said Monroe County assistant district attorney Michael Rakaczewski. "From individuals who were actively involved to individuals who lied to the police to individuals who hid evidence to individuals who fled the scene."
Pi Delta Psi also faces the top criminal charges. "Obviously, you can't put a fraternity or a corporation in jail, but you can hold them responsible — part of that is financially," Rakaczewski said.
The president of the fraternity at the time, Andy Meng, brother of Congresswoman Grace Meng, is among those who face the lesser charges. His lawyer said in a statement that "had no role" in how Deng was treated and "did not impede or obstruct the investigation into his death."
A lawyer for Danny Chen, who also faces the less serious charges, accused prosecutors of over-reaching.
"It is regrettable that the D.A. and the Grand Jury made no distinction as to the individual culpability of each of the young man who was present," attorney Hugh Mo said.
"I believe a number of the defendants would be acquitted by a jury. The tragic death of Michael should not be used to ruin the life of so many young Asian American college students, the bulk of them fully cooperated with the DA and testified before the grand jury."
Deng's family has filed suit against the fraternity and Baruch College.