By Tom Momberg
A Manhattan judge has ruled that the Queens family of Chun Hsien Deng can file a late claim against CUNY Baruch College, where he was a student when he died during an alleged hazing ritual during a trip with a fraternity to Pennsylvania in December 2013.
Deng’s family lives in Oakland Gardens.
The 18-year-old Deng, who was called Michael, was allegedly killed during a hazing rite known as the “glass ceiling” at a house in Tunkhannock, Pa. in the Pocono Mountains, according to an affidavit originally filed by the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department.
Deng was not a member of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity but was a “pledge,” who gathered that weekend in Pennsylvania with about 20 fraternity members.
Pledges, including Deng, were blindfolded carrying backpacks full of sand and were ordered to make it to a particular goal line as the fraternity members struck them and tried to prevent them from reaching the end, the affidavit said.
Nobody has yet been charged in the incident, but the Monroe County coroner’s office said it had recently ruled the death a homicide.
Pi Delta Psi is an Asian-American cultural fraternity that has about 25 chapters at schools around the country. After the incident National Fraternity President Andy Meng, the brother of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), said the Baruch chapter’s hazing ritual and the Pennsylvania trip were not sanctioned by the fraternity.
CUNY permanently banned Pi Delta Psi immediately following Deng’s death. Baruch College also told the court that 11 fraternity members had taken an anti-hazing workshop and signed agreements not to participate in hazing practices three months prior to the incident, according to an affidavit by Shadia Sachedina, Baruch’s director of student life.
As the administrator of Deng’s estate, his mother Xiu Fen Liu previously filed notice to file claim against the City University of New York for monetary losses resulting from his death. That proposed claim was served on Oct. 6, 2014, well within the mandated 90 days of an appointment Liu set with the court.
But the claim was never followed through, because it was not verified by Liu as the claimant in time. Nor was the claim verified by her attorney, Bill Friedlander, as required by the Court of Claims Act.
Liu, Deng’s family and Friedlander could not be reached for comment.
In Liu’s more recent notice to file a claim, she said she filed late because CUNY had access to more information to build a case than she and her attorney had at the time. She argued that a police investigation was still ongoing in Pennsylvania, so much of the information about the incident was being withheld from Deng’s family, shielded by the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
Judge Alan Marin of New York’s Court of Claims concluded in his ruling that in all factors provided by the Court of Claims Act, “Liu, individually and as the administrator of the Estate of Chun Hsien Deng, is entitled to submit a late claim.”
The Pocono police, who are conducting the investigation, would not comment on why the probe has not yet been concluded and why there have been no charges.
The Monroe County district attorney, whose jurisdiction covers the Pocono Mountains, could not be reached for comment.
The information gathered by the Pocono police or DA could be made available by court order if Liu follows through with her suit despite the ongoing investigation.
CUNY argued that because the college was not aware of the fraternity’s trip to Pennsylvania and because some members signed an anti-hazing agreement tthat Liu should not be allowed to file a claim against the university system.
Liu and her attorney were granted the claim anyway. They were required to submit the verified claim by Saturday, April 25.
Friedlander could not be reached for comment either.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb