Police discover 14 UAlbany students in ‘disturbing scene’
ALBANY The noises coming from the basement at 470 Hudson Ave. were loud enough that neighbors complained to Albany police.
Officers investigating the early Friday morning complaint found 14 students from the University at Albany lying face down in puddles of water that had formed on the floor of the basement, while seven others beat them with wooden paddles and rubber hoses. The seven individuals affiliated with a fraternity that lost its campus recognition years ago were also pouring cold water over the heads of their pledges and telling them to beg for mercy.
“They could hear it … They walked down to the basement and pretty much witnessed all this going on,” Albany police spokesman Steven Smith said Monday. “The officers said it was a very disturbing scene and put a quick halt to it.”
The alleged hazing episode led to the arrest of nine, including eight students and a man visiting from downstate. The residents of the home — John Storte, 19, Nicholas Salamone, 20, Joseph Lane, 20 and Anthony Morello, 20 — were each given violation charges of second-degree hazing and criminal nuisance, in addition to the misdemeanor charge of unlawful assembly.
Also arrested were Vincent Serrecchia, 20, of 487 Hudson Ave., Joseph Sheehan, 21, of 489 Hudson Ave., and Anthony Warme, 20, of Bronx, who were all charged with second-degree hazing and unlawful assembly. Sheehan was the UAlbany student hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his leg following an altercation on Hudson Avenue in September.
Police said another student affiliated with the group tried to force his way into the house past an officer posted by the back door during the process of their investigation on Friday. Philip Terra, 21, of 466 Hudson Ave., was subsequently charged with obstruction of governmental administration and resisting arrest.
One of the pledges — 18-year-old Frank Calandra — was also found to have a bottle of narcotic pills. Calandra, who lives on UAlbany’s uptown campus, was charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Smith said the 14 students who were being hazed suffered minor cuts and bruises, but refused medical attention. The home was also cited for a number of city code violations, but none that would force it to be vacated.
Both police and university officials would say little about the group committing the alleged hazing other than to say it is not one that is recognized by UAlbany. Students from the university identified the group as one that was formerly know as Sigma Alpha Mu — more commonly known as ‘Sammy’ — before it lost recognition from UAlbany and its national organization.
UAlbany spokesman Karl Luntta said the university will take immediate action against those students involved in the off-campus event. He said the university will also continue to work with city police to ensure such allegations and other quality-of-life issues in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood are addressed.
“UAlbany proactively educates students and parents about hazing issues and has a zero tolerance policy for any actions that are physically and mentally abusive to the well-being of another,” he said.
The hazing incident occurred on the same block where the infamous kegs and eggs riot occurred in March of 2011. The block is heavily populated with students, many of whom identify with UAlbany’s Greek organizations.
City police pledged to crack down on the raucous off-campus parties following the pre-St. Patrick’s Day riot, which overturned vehicles and left injured several police officers. And by some student accounts, they have stayed true to their word.
UAlbany has periodically wrestled with how to handle unrecognized Greek organizations operating off campus. Unrecognized groups are prohibited from affiliating with the university in any way and students belonging to them can face judicial sanction on campus, UAlbany Student Activities Director Michael Jaromin said.
“These are not fraternities,” he said of the groups. “They have no affiliation with the university.”
These groups aren’t subjected to the type of scrutiny recognized Greek organizations face. As a result, unrecognized groups on the campus have garnered a reputation for illicit and often illegal conduct.
In 2007, the university hosted a so-called amnesty month where groups that had lost their campus recognition could return with no questions asked, provided they agreed to follow university rules. At that time, university officials suspected that Sigma Alpha Mu was operating underground.
“We actually had no one who took advantage of that,” Jaromin said.
Since that time, Jaromin said unrecognized organizations appear to have lost a lot of their clout among students. He wasn’t sure how many are still in existence, but said the reports he’s received about such groups have dwindled.
“My sense is there’s not that many,” he said. “But one may be too many.”
Jaromin said the existence of some unrecognized groups also shouldn’t tarnish the reputation of the more than 40 fraternities and sororities that do operate within the bounds of the university. He said many of the recognized Greek organizations are active in philanthropies and help bring a positive image to the campus.
“Those are the ones we focus on,” he said, “We think they’re doing a great job.”