Courtesy of the Tsialas Family

The body of freshman Antonio Tsialas '23 was found in Fall Creek Gorge on Oct. 26. His family is currently filing a lawsuit in connection with his death.

January 29, 2020

Family of Deceased Freshman Antonio Tsialas ’23 Sue Cornell University, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity

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The parents of Antonio Tsialas ’23 — a freshman who was found dead at the base of Fall Creek gorge in October — have filed a lawsuit against Cornell University, the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and seven Cornell students. The family is seeking compensation for the pain “suffered by their son … prior to his death.”

Tsialas attended a fraternity party at Phi Kappa Psi on Oct. 24, and was reported missing shortly after. Two days later, his body was found at Fall Creek gorge. His death prompted an ongoing University-led investigation, while private investigators hired by the family also investigated.

After Tsialas was found, the Cornell University Police Department wrote in an email to the Cornell community that “no foul play is suspected.”

The lawsuit additionally named the fraternity’s executive board members Andrew Scherr ’20, William Granath ’21 and Ryan Berman ’21 as defendants. Rush chairman Nolan Berkenfeld ’20, House manager Pietro Palazzolo Russo ’21, Shane Rohe ’21, who allegedly escorted Tsialas to the “dirty rush” event and Felipe Hanuch ’22, who the suit says invited Tsialas to the event, were also listed. Cornell Phi Kappa Psi advisor John Jacobs ’90 was another defendant in the suit.

The findings listed in the lawsuit were from an investigation carried out by a private investigator. David Bianchi, a Miami-based attorney representing Tsialas’ family, told The Sun that the Cornell University Police Department did not provide any of its findings to him. None of the defendants listed in the lawsuit spoke with the private investigator, Bianchi added.

According to the lawsuit, members of Phi Kappa Psi drove Tsialas from the Robert Purcell Community Center at 8:30 p.m. to the fraternity’s house. The event — called “Christmas in October” — was held to identify freshmen who could be potential pledges for the fraternity. Members of Phi Kappa Psi invited “suitable candidates” to the event, the lawsuit read.

The event allegedly consisted of multiple hazing activities in which freshmen had to consume copious amounts of alcohol. At the house, there were seven rooms in which these activities were conducted, the lawsuit read.

In one of the first activities, the lawsuit claimed that sorority women were present in the hazing of the freshmen. Bianchi did not know the identities of the women involved and said that the University did not provide him with any names.

Freshmen leaving the event left heavily intoxicated, and the lawsuit further alleges that Phi Kappa Psi members did not try to stop Tsialas from leaving or get him back safely to his dorm.

An autopsy report from the Tompkins County Health Department cited multiple traumatic injuries as the cause of Tsialas’ death, according to an email from Bianchi. The report also determined that he had acute alcohol intoxication.

The University did not keep the family or the family’s lawyer informed of the ongoing investigation, Bianchi told The Sun in a phone call Wednesday morning.

Once Bianchi planned to file the lawsuit, he did not contact the University. The University has also not contacted Bianchi about the lawsuit, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Phi Kappa Psi’s national chapter was made aware of the lawsuit through multiple media inquiries. Ronald Ransom, Phi Kappa Psi national executive director, wrote to The Sun that the national chapter had not been served with the suit. Ransom added that the chapter does not comment on any impending litigation.

Currently, the amount of damages Tsialas’ family is seeking is undetermined.

The Sun’s request for comment to Cornell police was responded to by Cornell media relations, who provided The Sun with a statement at 11:35 a.m. on Wednesday.

“At this time, Cornell University has not been made aware of any legal action by the Tsialas family, and we cannot comment on potential future litigation,” the statement read. “The Cornell University Police continue to actively investigate Antonio Tsialas’s death, We continue to ask anyone who may have information related to the incident to contact us at 607-255-1111. People can also email Cornell Police investigators at [email protected] or reach out through the Silent Witness Program.”

Scherr and Hanuch declined to comment to The Sun. Rohe, Granath, Berman, Berkenfeld, Russo and Jacobs have not responded to The Sun’s requests for comment.