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STFBC Files Lawsuit Against Phi Gamma Delta & 22 others for Severe Brain Damage

The columns at Mizzou.

Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. has taken up the case of Daniel Santulli, a young victim of fraternity hazing at the University of Missouri by Phi Gamma Delta members. On Thursday January 27th, our firm filed a lawsuit against 23 defendants, including officers and board advisors for Phi Gamma Delta and their chapter at the University of Missouri, Chi Mu. Daniel, who turned 19 on the day we filed suit, suffered significant brain damage from the incident; he cannot speak and remains unaware of his surroundings.

Media sources are reporting Daniel's story across the country:

Today, our hazing injury lawyers tell his story.

Daniel Santulli: Promising Student & Athlete

Danny grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, attending Eden Prairie High School. He was a talented athlete, playing for both the basketball and baseball teams; he even managed the hockey team in his spare time. His after-school job was at a local fitness club, where he worked with local youth.

During his senior year, he decided to attend the University of Missouri. Upon graduation in June 2021, Danny was contacted by the recruitment chair for Chi Mu, the University of Missouri chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. Throughout his recruitment, the recruiter convinced Danny that Phi Gamma Delta would be an excellent way to make lifelong friends; the fraternity, after all, promoted itself by endorsing values like "morality," "friendship," and "excellence."

In truth, Chi Mu exhibited anything but excellence or morality.

In just four years, Chi Mu had accrued six campus violations—five of them for "alcohol distribution." Phi Gamma Delta had a "no alcohol" policy for its chapter houses that was not enforced and Chi Mu soundly ignored.

Sadly, Danny and his family didn't know anything about the fraternity's sordid history, so he happily agreed to pledge Phi Gamma Delta when he moved to campus. When he moved in, Mr. and Mrs. Santulli received a letter from Phi Gamma Delta explaining that Danny would "face situations where [his] values will be challenged." The letter called these situations "testing points." If Phi Gamma Delta were honest about what those "testing points" entailed, they would have told Danny to stay away from the Chi Mu house at all costs.

Suffering a Month of Abuse

Danny was wooed with promises of friendship and brotherhood. After he became a pledge, Danny was little more than a serf. He was ordered to be at the beck and call of senior fraternity members at all hours, which eventually led to him abandoning his paid-for dorm and sleeping at the chapter house.

Danny's duties included:

  • Retrieving food, alcohol, and marijuana on command
  • Buying things for fraternity members with his own money
  • Cleaning the bedrooms at the chapter house

At one point, Danny was ordered to climb into a trash can with broken glass. He badly cut his foot, requiring stitches and crutches.

The cumulative attacks on Danny's dignity, autonomy, and physical safety had a debilitating effect on him. His grades were suffering, he was sleep-deprived, and he suffered from constant stress; worst of all, he was isolated since none of the fraternity brothers showed concern for his deteriorating condition. Just two days before a big fraternity tradition, Pledge Dad Reveal Night, Danny's sister paid him a visit at the Chi Mu house.

What she saw was a young man suffering from fatigue and severe depression. Danny tearfully confessed that he was unable to handle the stress of pledging. After their parents heard about how he was doing, they urged him to quit immediately. But Danny forged ahead, not because he believed in Chi Mu's fraudulent 'vision,' but because he didn't want to suffer the embarrassment and humiliation he'd have to endure if he quit. It's entirely possible that, after weeks of being subjected to humiliation, Danny believed he'd come too far to quit.

Pledge Dad Reveal Night

On October 19, 2021, all pledges were ordered to report to the chapter house via text. They were blindfolded before their appointed "pledge dad"; Danny's was a fraternity member named Ryan Delanty. In a tradition known as "the family bottle," Delanty handed Danny a full bottle of Tito's Vodka that he was pressured to finish before the end of the night. Danny, depressed and fatigued, complied with the request.

The fraternity members partied for the rest of the night, where cocaine and marijuana were available. Some pledges (including Danny) said they didn't want to continue drinking. Fraternity members pressured them to continue.

The tragedy of what happened to Danny that night would have been obvious to any sober, clear thinking observer.

Just before midnight, Danny collapsed on a couch where no fraternity 'brother' or even his “pledge dad” bothered to check on him. No one told him it was okay to stop drinking and no one took the bottle from him and said "enough" of this fraternity tradition. A little while later, a fraternity member found Danny unresponsive, with pale skin and blue lips. Instead of calling 911, someone put Danny in his car and drove him to the hospital.

Hospital staff realized Danny wasn't breathing and was in cardiac arrest; they immediately restarted his heart and admitted him to the ICU. His blood was tested, and he had a BAC of .468—over 5 times the legal limit. He required a ventilator for a few days. While Danny can breathe on his own now, the brain damage he sustained means he's unable to communicate and isn't aware of his surroundings.

Holding Fraternity Leaders, Officers, & Supervisors Accountable

In one sense, our hazing lawyers have heard this story before: a young man, eager to become part of a grand-sounding brotherhood, is subjected to abuse with no regard for his safety and suffers grievous harm. We're even familiar with the "family bottle," having seen the same tradition end in the death of Andrew Coffey at Florida State University.

    But in another sense, this story is one of the most tragic hazing cases we've ever encountered. Here was a family who learned too late about what their son was going through and never had the opportunity to intervene and stop it when no one associated with the fraternity would do anything to assist or protect their son.

    Now, a young man has been robbed of his future—and a family has been robbed of their son and brother. We are fighting for this family just as we have for all of the other hazing victims we have represented over the last 30 years.