Our firm is proud to announce that we have reached an agreement with Cornell University to resolve the civil case filed by the parents of Antonio Tsialas following his death after attending a fraternity hazing event. The settlement for Antonio's fraternity hazing and wrongful death includes compensation for his parents in recognition of their lifelong loss, Cornell’s disclosure of its police investigation file and other meaningful concessions by Cornell.
As a part of the settlement, Cornell has agreed to set-up a perpetual scholarship in Antonio's name that will be awarded to an incoming freshman each year who exhibits the qualities that made Antonio such a special person. Additionally, Cornell will name its annual anti-hazing prevention week after Antonio and invite Antonio’s parents to participate in the program and to make suggestions for the subjects that should be covered during the program. The scholarship and the hazing prevention week will keep Antonio's memory alive for many years to come, while Flavia and John will have a hand in keeping other students safe for years to come as well.
Despite the progress we have made, however, questions still remain about how and why Antonio died, and our firm's investigation into his death will continue. Cornell University Police have officially concluded their investigation, ruling that Antonio died in an accidental fall. However, their investigative report indicates there might be a reason to believe that's not the case, and that is what we will focus on now.
New Details Emerge Regarding the Investigation into Antonio's Death
The newly released documents include findings from the Tompkins County District Attorney's office. According to the records Matthew Van Houten, the Thompkins County District Attorney, declined to pursue criminal charges for the death, hazing, and unlawful serving of alcohol to people under 21 that occurred just over a year ago. Prosecutors were meeting with Cornell University Police as recently as September, according to these records. Van Houten said he did not believe Antonio's case merited a criminal hazing charge and believed that the university's punishment for unlawful serving of alcohol and the banning of Phi Kappa Psi was sufficient. The case was closed on September 14.
Two weeks later, campus police received a tip regarding a Cornell student who was talking about the case during a party. This student allegedly had "direct knowledge or was directly involved in concealing the death of [Tsialas] by 'throwing his body into the gorge,'" according to police documents. When questioned, this student later denied wrongdoing, which was partially aided by the culture of secrecy permeating fraternity life.
This week, we urged Van Houten to commission a grand jury to compel students to testify.
A grand jury does not hand down sentences but is instead an investigative body that determines whether the evidence of a case merits a criminal trial. The grand jury would have the power to force students to testify under oath about what happened to Antonio, which might bring the truth to light once and for all.
"It is done all of the time in criminal investigations when you are faced with witnesses who do not want to talk," Attorney David Bianchi said in a report from the Press & Sun-Bulletin.
"For some reason, that is not being done in this death investigation and that is not acceptable. Why would anyone not want to do everything possible to investigate how and why Antonio died?"
In an interview with NBC News, Attorney Michael Levine echoed the same concerns. “New York has criminalized hazing. That’s the law in the state of New York. Under that statute it’s hard to imagine that the facts uncovered by Cornell University PD do not give rise to criminal charges for hazing. So, it’s very surprising that the District Attorney would not press charges against anybody or convene a grand jury.”
The Civil Case Is Over, But the Fight for Justice Continues
There's more to this story than what the campus police have uncovered. The next step is to bring to bear the full weight of of New York State law to bring the truth to light. A grand jury is the next logical step, but the District Attorney is refusing to use the power he has to make it happen. Our firm will continue to do everything possible to continue the investigation and uncover the truth about what happened.
If you know anything about Antonio's death, submit a tip anonymously.