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Ingham County Prosecutor's Office sheds light on the rarity of death by hazing

June 15, 2022
<p>A lit candle was held at the vigil in remembrance of Phat Nguyen on Nov. 29, 2021, at the Minskoff Pavillion.</p>

A lit candle was held at the vigil in remembrance of Phat Nguyen on Nov. 29, 2021, at the Minskoff Pavillion.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

Michigan State University students and Pi Alpha Phi fraternity members Ethan Cao, Hoang Pham, and Andrew Nguyen were arraigned and charged with hazing in relation to the death of pledge member, Phat Nguyen, on June 3.

Cao, Pham and Andrew Nguyen were charged with one felony count of hazing resulting in death and three misdemeanor counts of hazing resulting in physical injury, according to East Lansing's District Court Register of Actions.

However, cases of death by hazing are extremely rare in Ingham County, dating back to before the Michigan Law of Hazing was enacted in 2004.

"This is the first suspected case of death by hazing that I can recall and I've been working at the Prosecutor's Office since 1997," Scott Hughes, Ingham County Prosecutor Office's Community Outreach Coordinator, said in an email.

According to Michigan's Penal Code, one felony count of hazing resulting in death is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. One misdemeanor count of hazing resulting in physical injury is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

Additionally, the Penal Code states, that an individual's consent or “acquiescence” to hazing is not a defense to prosecuting hazing.

All three defendants pled “Not Guilty” and have been released from custody on a $5,000 bond. The three defendants are not allowed to use alcohol, marijuana or other illegal substances, cannot leave the state of Michigan and are not allowed to have contact with the other three victims by court order.

Hughes said the prosecutor's office will not publicly speculate about any plea resolution so long as the defendants maintain their innocence. Similarly, it is unknown whether the defendants will face trials.

Has this happened before at MSU?

Though prosecution for death by hazing is rare, MSU has formerly seen fraternity members die from overconsumption of alcohol.

Former member Brian McMillen of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity was found dead in 2009. McMillen's death was ruled accidental, with the cause of death being overconsumption of alcohol, then-Ingham County Medical Examiner Dean Sienko had said.

Following McMillen's death, all MSU greek houses associated with the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils were prohibited from hosting parties. This social probation lasted two months.

Similarly, Phat Nguyen died on Nov. 20 after attending a welcome event at the Pi Alpha Phi fraternity. Three other victims, who were also pledges with Phat Nguyen were passed out and transported to Sparrow Hospital. An autopsy report revealed that alcohol intoxication was the cause of death.

Following Phat Nguyen's death, Pi Alpha Phi was placed under interim suspension and then disbanded on Dec. 9, 2021, for a minimum of 10 years.

Pi Alpha Phi National Fraternity did not respond to The State News' request for comment at the time of publication.

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