Officials reflect on college volleyball hazing incident
Eleven current and former members of the SUNY Geneseo women’s intercollegiate volleyball squad have been arrested on charges of Hazing and of Unlawfully Dealing with a Minor. Geneseo Chief of Police Eric Osganian advised that, in each case, the charge is in the first degree and classified as an ‘A’ misdemeanor.
The arrests relate to a Sunday, Sept. 2, gathering at a member’s residence in Courtside Apartments at 36 Court Street. Osganian reported that eight younger members of the squad were forced to submit to a hazing ritual in which they were blindfolded, hand-cuffed and required to drink vodka. As a result of the hazing, one of the eight girls suffered severe alcohol poisoning and was taken by ambulance to Noyes Hospital.
The following women were charged:
• Alysia Negron, 20, of Buffalo;
• Laura Galvin, 21, of Baldwinsville;
• Alexandra Wende, 20, of Williamsville
• Noelle Morrison, 20, of Stoneybrook;
• Julia Ganglof, 20, of Lancaster;
• Sarah Dewey, 19, of Cooperstown;
• Carissa Gagliardi, 19, of Wantagh;
• Megan Johnson, 19, of Moriches;
• Laura Rahab, 21, of East Northport;
• Courtney Long, 20, Rochester,
• Megan Reed, 21, of Horseheads.
All of these women were allegedly present in the apartment when the hazing was underway. Names of the eight alleged victims have not been released.
Following the arrests, SUNY Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio announced the cancellation of all women’s volleyball games, tournaments and practice while the investigation remains underway.
Bonfiglio later confirmed to the student newspaper, The Lamron, that that the volleyball team remains under suspension for a period of time as yet to be determined.
Chief Osganian is of the understanding that the suspension will remain in effect based upon the outcome of the investigation and disposal of the charges in court.
A press release from SUNY Geneseo stated, “The college will initiate its own internal investigation and in all likelihood pursue disciplinary action against those involved in the alleged violations of the College Code of Conduct and college hazing policy.”
Chief Osganian told The Livingston County News that his department involved itself in the investigation after being informed by the University Police about a case of alcohol poisoning, which had taken place off-campus and in the village.
Interviews with the victims and defendants are consistant in stating that freshmen members of the volleyball team were summoned via text message to the Court Street party by the older members at about 9 p.m.
“Later, on their way back to the dorms, one 18-year-old fell and passed out in a grassy area on campus,” Osganian stated. “Somebody helped her up and brought her to the dorm, where she was incoherent. The University Police were called. They made a report at 12:40 a.m. and the girl was transported by Geneseo Ambulance, where she allegedly had her stomach pumped and was hooked up to IVs.”
At 8:30 a.m. Geneseo Police were informed of the incident and immediately began their investigation.
“What at first seemed to be an underage drinking party turned out to be more than just a party,” Osganian said.
From their initial interview, officers were rapidly able to compile statements, first from the freshmen victims and later from the upper classmen.
“The victims were very cooperative,” Osganian reported. The one victim who went to the hospital was interviewed on Tuesday, after she was released, he noted.
Among the 11 defendants who were eventually charged, six cooperated with police and supplied statements while five declined to speak and requested an attorney.
“The drinking at the apartment must have gotten a little rough, “ Osganian stated, “because she (the victim who was transported to the hospital) told us that while she was handcuffed and blindfolded and they were forcing these shots of vodka in her mouth, someone pushed the glass so hard that it chipped her tooth.”
“We understand drinking occurs in Geneseo, but this crosses the line,” Osganian asserted.
Aside from the hazing aspect of this case, Osganian advised that underage drinking — often to excess — takes place in Geneseo every weekend. Indeed, Osganian received a report of seven transports for possible alcohol poisoning over the most recent Sept. 7-9 weekend.
“It’s sad we are becoming accustomed to this,” he added. “It happens every weekend, so we have just been fortunate to avoid another tragedy.”
Police have yet to receive the official measure of blood alcohol content for the hospitalized victim.
However, in her statement, she informed police that, upon gaining consciousness at about 6 a.m., a nurse told her she was at 0.266, over three times the legal definition for intoxication.
“If no one helped her when she fell in the grass, or if she didn’t get to the hospital on time, who knows what could have happened?” Osganian asked, adding, “It’s serious.”
With the interviewing completed, Osganian met with Livingston County District Attorney Greg McCaffrey on Wednesday and reached consensus on the two-fold nature of the charges of hazing and unlawfully dealing with a minor. The first degree aspect of the hazing stems from the physical injury done to the one victim transported to the hospital, Osganian noted.
Chief Osganian acknowledged that the February, 2009 death of SUNY student and Geneseo ambulance volunteer Armen Partamian in the aftermath of a Court Street fraternity hazing party is no longer remembered by the majority of SUNY undergraduates — and hence may have lost its power to deter similar behavior.
Fire chief comments
Geneseo Fire Chief Andrew Chandler, head of the department under which Geneseo Ambulance operates, and a personal acquaintance of the late Armen Partamian, asked, “How does it look that three years after he dies we have a hazing incident?”
Chandler is alarmed over rumors that, “The volleyball players don’t think this is such a big deal; that it’s been blown out of proportion.”
“They’ve forgotten about Arman Partamian,” Chandler said. “As someone who went to Armen’s funeral, I’m angry.”
Speaking of the volleyball team members who are facing charges, Chandler continued, “They probably think what they were doing was not near what happened to Arman.”
Chandler mentioned that this particular group of student athletes has participated in sessions for ‘hazing awareness,’ as well as freshman orientation sessions addressing alcohol — or so his department has been informed.
“Most of the persons we have dealt with in the ambulance over the last few weeks are not over age 21,” he added.
“I’m frustrated that we’re back to where things were three years ago and that, for all the prevention and education that has gone on, there are persons who think, ‘This doesn’t apply to me.’”
‘Charges are appropriate,’ says District Attorney
“This is serious in what could have been. It’s serious anytime you have a student so drunk and ill they require medical attention,” said Livingston County District Attorney Greg McCaffrey.
But given the peer pressure to which the women are subject, Chief Osganian suggested it is fortunate that 14 team members — the eight victims and six of those charged — were truthful and cooperated in their statements.
McCaffrey acknowledged that the level of cooperation was an element in the level of charges which were filed and may continue to be in any plea bargain.
However, an adult (age 19 and over) convicted of a Class ‘A’ misdemeanor charge does face up to a year incarceration, three years of probation, and fines.
“We will not be seeking jail time,” McCaffrey qualified, noting that any plea bargain would be authorized by his office and involve the input of the assistant who will be prosecuting the cases.
McCaffrey noted that media presence has played a role in making the present case high-profile.
“YNN beat me there, before I knew what happened,” he reported.
With 11 persons arrested, McCaffrey’s office will be facing issues of ‘who did what’ when attempting prosecution. Tthere also appears to be no evidence that any of the eight victims attempted to leave the premises. Hence, McCaffrey believes, there is no cause for charges of a higher nature, such as assault or unlawful imprisonment.
“They are charged appropriately,” McCaffrey emphasized. “I’m not in the business of over-charging people to make a statement. I’m comfortable with what the initial charges are and I have an idea of where I’d like to see it go.”
While the incident certainly carried the potential of replaying the Partamian tragedy, McCaffrey points out that, “You can’t be punishing these girls for something they have no control over, that happened several years ago.”