The Daniel Santulli Hazing Case
Hazing Abuse & Harassment at the University of Missouri
Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A has been advocating for the victims of hazing for more than two decades. Our work has been recognized nationwide for our relentless pursuit of justice against fraternities, their officers, and members who knowingly allow hazing to take place despite the harm it causes. We have authored legislation toughening hazing statutes, encouraging calls to 911 by offering immunity from prosecution to those who call for help as soon as a victim needs it, and removing spurious defenses typically raised by those who haze as they look for legal loopholes. We've seen all manner of hazing abuse and injury and all manner of cover-up attempts by fraternity members and others to hide their wrongdoing. When we say we've seen it all, we mean it.
But the Daniel Santulli case was the worst hazing injury anyone has ever seen.
Daniel Santulli was a student-athlete from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He played basketball and baseball, worked as a coordinator for youth activities at the local fitness club after school, and even managed the hockey team in his spare time. He had his heart set on attending the University of Missouri in the fall. Before he even moved to campus, however, he was contacted by the Recruitment Chair of Chi Mu, the Phi Gamma Delta chapter at the University of Missouri. The fraternity knew of Danny from some existing members, and they were eager to make him one of their own.
For Danny, the opportunity to pledge Phi Gamma Delta meant making lifelong friends, so he gladly accepted their offer.
At some point during the pledge process, Danny's parents received a letter from Chi Mu that they would later realize warned ominously of what was to come:
"Our members will face situations where their values will be challenged...We call these experiences testing points."
As soon as Danny moved to campus, his recruiters revealed the true nature of the pledge process: humiliation and domination. Danny was ordered to buy alcohol, marijuana, and food for his senior brothers at all hours of the day and night; to make it even more humiliating, he often had to pay for all of it with his own money. He was ordered to clean their rooms, sign them in for classes they did not attend, and on and on. To make himself more available at all hours, Danny eventually started sleeping at the Chi Mu chapter house instead of the dorm room his parents were paying for. At one point, Danny was told to climb into a trash can that had broken glass in it and ended up cutting his foot, which required a trip to the hospital to get stitches and crutches so that he could get around. None of the “brothers” showed any concern at all for Danny’s worsening mental health.
The pledge process had a debilitating effect on Danny.
His grades were poor due to the constant sleep deprivation and the constant pressure to obey his superiors. He was stressed, slipping into a deep depression caused by physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. The cumulative effect of months of the harassment and abuse took a toll, and his family started to notice.
On October 17, 2021, Danny's sister, who was a junior at Mizzou, visited Danny at the fraternity house one night; she immediately saw that Danny was suffering. For the first time in her life, he tearfully confided in her about his treatment at his fraternity brothers' hands. She told her parents what she saw, and they all urged Danny to quit pledging and walk away. Sadly, Danny was already trapped in a common and deeply harmful cycle of fraternity abuse:
Rather than fearing for his own safety, he feared the humiliation he might face if he quit.
That "sunk cost fallacy" way of thinking—believing that he had no choice but to proceed because of how much he had already invested and suffered—causes countless young people to subject themselves to hazing every year.
What Is Phi Gamma Delta?
Phi Gamma Delta was founded in 1848 and claims 200,000 brothers across 144 chapters in the U.S. While it promotes itself by promising "enduring friendships," "stimulating the pursuit of knowledge," and other favorable virtues, the Chi Mu chapter had long been known for conducting themselves contrary to these values. From 2017 to 2021, Chi Mu was subjected to no less than half a dozen violations—5 of them for alcohol distribution. Danny was recruited based on a myth. Though he pledged Phi Gamma Delta to make lifelong friends, he was treated as little more than an unpaid servant to his senior brothers.
Pledge Dad Night
Two nights after his conversation with his sister, Danny and the other pledges were summoned to appear at the chapter house for Pledge Dad Reveal Night. They were all told to take off their shirts, after which they were blindfolded and brought down to the basement where they would meet their "pledge dad": a fraternity member who would be responsible for their care while also facilitating their night of alcohol abuse. Per a tradition called "the family bottle," Danny's pledge dad handed him a full bottle of Tito's vodka that Danny was expected to drink quickly. Cocaine and marijuana were also available at this annual tradition that night.
The pledges were all subjected to enormous social pressure to drink the alcohol they were given, and Danny did as he was told. To make matters worse, while Danny was dutifully drinking his way through the family bottle, another fraternity brother went up to him and put a tube in his mouth. At the other end of the tube was a funnel, and the fraternity brother proceeded to pour beer down Danny’s throat. Incredibly, all of this was captured on video.
Sometime before midnight, Danny passed out on a couch. No one did anything to help him. Eventually, some members found Danny unconscious with blue lips and pale skin and realized he was in big trouble, but instead of calling 911, they picked him up off the couch to take him to a car and proceeded to drop him on his head on their way out the door. That too was captured on the surveillance video. They eventually got him into a car, drove him to the hospital, whereupon arrival staff realized he wasn't breathing. They managed to restart his heart and put him on a ventilator. His blood tests showed a shocking result: Danny had a blood alcohol level of .468—more than 5x the legal limit.
While Danny was eventually taken off the ventilator and was able to breathe on his own, he remains unresponsive, unaware of his surroundings, and unable to communicate in any way. He will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life.
Fighting for Danny's Future
Shortly after Danny's grievous injury, the Santulli family spent hours searching the internet for the best hazing lawyers they could find, regardless of where in the country they were located; that is what led them to contact David Bianchi and Michael Levine at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A for help. As the foremost hazing law firm in the country, we have more experience than anyone in cases like Danny’s. In fact, in 2017, we represented the parents of Andrew Coffey, who died at a pledge dad tradition nearly identical to the one Danny attended. We knew exactly what we needed to do when the Santulli family called us.
In February 2022, our firm filed a 51-page hazing lawsuit against 23 defendants, including Phi Gamma Delta, all Phi Gamma Delta officers at the Chi Mu chapter, all Chi Mu fraternity leaders, and the members of the Board of Chapter Advisors.
- The purpose of the lawsuit was two-fold:
- The first priority was ensuring that Danny would have sufficient resources so that he could be properly taken care of for the rest of his life. The around-the-clock care that he will need is extremely expensive. We also wanted to make sure that Danny had access to the best therapies and treatments available to give him the maximum chance for recovery.
- The second priority of the case was to make sure what Danny’s story would be publicly known so that those responsible for what happened to him would be less likely to do such a thing in the future, and the horrific nature of his injuries would be a wake-up call to those currently in fraternities around the country.
The Case Draws to a Close
By May 10, 2022, all 23 defendants in the case had settled with the Santulli family.
Danny had gotten what he needed and will be able to access the best medical therapies available into the future. Unfortunately, countless young people are in Danny's position every day: bullied and harassed into complying with harmful, stupid, and wasteful traditions. Justice for Danny means making sure that he has everything he needs for the rest of his life, but it also means ensuring that no one else has to suffer the way he is suffering.