2 bills call for higher penalties for hazing after death of WSU fraternity pledge

Two bills that raise the penalties for "hazing' are making their way through the state legislature, and both were inspired by the death of a Washington State University freshman two years ago.  

19-year-old Sam Martinez, of Bellevue, died of alcohol poisoning on Nov. 12, 2019 while pledging Alpha Tau Omega. He and another student drank half a gallon of rum. He became unconscious that night after two hours, but no one called medics until 8:30 the following morning.

While hazing is a misdemeanor, Martinez’s mother, Jolayne Houtz, wants to get it outlawed completely. ‘Sam's Bill’ would make hazing a felony and call for longer jail time if the hazee gets hurt.  

"It's unacceptable that this state's response to hazing is shrug and a slap on the wrist," Houtz said during remote testimony.

As of June 2021, 15 current and former WSU Alpha Tau Omega fraternity members have been criminally charged for Martinez’s death.    

Of the 15 people involved, the person who gave Martinez the rum got 19 days in jail. The others got a day or two of community service, though not for hazing-- but for the lesser crime of supplying alcohol to a minor.

It took prosecutors more than a year to file charges, and the statute of limitations had expired on charges for hazing.

If ‘Sam’s Bill’ became a law, it would extend the statute of limitations. It also raises the penalty for hazing to a year in jail, and sometimes, up to five years in jail if the hazee suffers a bodily injury or is temporarily incapacitated.

Nationwide, 55% of students report hazing of some form: in order to participate in a student club, join a fraternity or sorority or athletics, and 95% of the cases go unreported.

"What is the message we are sending to those who haze when a young man dies and the consequences for those responsible are so minimal?" Houtz asked. 

House Bill 1758 passed the House Public Safety Committee by an 11-2 vote. It would reclassify the crime of Hazing from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, and, in cases involving substantial bodily harm, to a class C felony.

HB 1844, which would create the crime of unlawful branding of another person as a Class B felony, passed the committee vote 13-0.

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