December 6, 2002

Penn Students Assault Princeton Debater

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Five University of Pennsylvania students are currently facing a variety of charges after being arrested for an assault on a visiting member of Princeton University’s debate team Nov. 16.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office is currently charging Penn freshman David Hochfelder, freshman Philip Balderston, sophomore Thomas Bispham, senior Steven Stolk and sophomore Tavaj Banga with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment of another person, terroristic threat, simple assault and criminal conspiracy, according to court history. The charges of aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy are both felonies of the first degree. If convicted of all charges, the alleged assailants could serve up to 49 years in prison.

Although their preliminary hearing was scheduled for this Wednesday, it has been postponed until Dec. 17, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. The alleged assailants were released on $10,000 bail, according to an article on

The incident occurred during the morning of Nov. 16, when two Penn students walked into a lounge where John Brantl, a sophomore at Princeton, and other Princeton Debate Panel members were sleeping. The Princeton students were at Penn for a debate tournament.

Penn freshman Jeff Sandman, Brantl’s host, did not witness the event. However, he said, “Originally, two Penn kids went into the room and starting being annoying.” He said that the Penn students flickered the lights on and off and Brantl spoke up in protest.

About a half-hour later, at 4:15 a.m., the assailants allegedly returned to the lounge.

“One of them picked the most vocal kid [Brantl] and threw a small canister of lawnmower oil on [him],” Sandman said. He also said one of the assailants kicked Brantl. Allegedly, the Penn students also threw a cigarette at Brantl and threatened to set him on fire.

The Penn students then left after forcing Brantl to apologize for his earlier comments and promise never to return to UPenn again, according to Sandman.

Neither the alleged assailants or the Princeton debate team members were available for comment.

The Penn administration is conducting an independent investigation.

“[A University investigation] often has different elements, different standards, [and] … different results than municipal court processes,” said Phyllis Holtzman, deputy director of University of Pennsylvania communications.

The alleged assailants are associated with the Owl Society, a secret society at Penn, said Sandman. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the Owl Society evolved from the Penn chapter of Psi Upsilon that was suspended in 1990 but later reinstated.

“We can’t confirm if [that association] played any kind of role or even if the students were members,” Holtzman said.

This incident is the first of its type in recent history at Penn.

“We certainly haven’t had problems [at Penn] before,” said Robert Glunt ’05, a member of the Cornell Forensics Society. “This could have happened anywhere. I don’t think it reflects poorly on Penn in general.”

Likewise, much of the Penn student body has expressed surprise at the events.

“Most of the student body is absolutely appalled to hear about these allegations,” Holtzman said.

According to Glunt, the incident should not affect the debate schedule.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher