Monday, March 20, 2023
March 20, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

‘Sam’s Law’ parents push for harsher penalties for hazing for a second year


SEATTLE — Lawmakers shed tears Monday as Jolayne Houtz told the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee that the punishment for the crime that killed her son is the same as it is for shoplifting.

Her son, Sam Martinez, died in 2019 from alcohol poisoning after being hazed by the former Alpha Tau Omega chapter of Washington State University.

“Nobody sends their child to college to be hazed,” said Houtz, a former Seattle Times reporter. “They’re at the cusp of everything wonderful in their lives, and to have it taken away like that…”

Seven of the 15 people charged in Martinez’s death pleaded guilty to the gross misdemeanor of furnishing liquor to a minor and each served one day of community service.

“Sam’s so-called big brother, the one who gave Sam a half-gallon bottle of rum and told him to drink the family drink,” Houtz said, “he served just 19 days in jail. One day for each year of Sam’s life.”

Through House Bill 1002, Martinez’s family is pushing to reclassify hazing from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor and, in cases involving substantial bodily harm, a class C felony.

Under current law, violators face up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. A gross misdemeanor charge would raise the potential punishment to a year in confinement and a maximum fine of $5,000. A person convicted of a class C felony could serve up to five years in prison and pay a fine up to $10,000.

Hazing is an action taken as part of a person’s initiation into a student organization, athletic team or other group that can cause physical, mental or emotional damage. It is most commonly associated with university Greek institutions like fraternities or sororities.

“Sam’s Law,” named after Martinez, was passed with bipartisan support in 2021, updating the definition of hazing and requiring universities and colleges, as well as fraternity and sorority chapters, to make hazing investigation records public. The law also requires universities to provide anti-hazing training and staff to report any instances of hazing.

Those involved in Martinez’s death were only prosecuted for furnishing liquor to a minor because the statute of limitations for hazing had passed by the time a prosecutor was ready to charge those involved.

“Our experience with the criminal justice system following Sam’s death has only added to our pain,” Houtz said.

Reclassifying hazing as a gross misdemeanor would extend the one-year statute of limitation to two years.

As of this month, at least one hazing death has been reported every year from 1959 to 2021, according to Hank Nuwer, Franklin College professor and creator of the U.S. hazing deaths database.

According to StopHazing, 44 states have anti-hazing laws. In 2021, anti-hazing laws were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.

The mother of Collin Wiant, who died in a hazing incident at Ohio University in 2018, testified in support of the Washington state bill via Zoom. “Collin’s Law” was passed in 2021, making hazing a second-degree misdemeanor equivalent to shoplifting with a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $750.

Since the passing of Sam’s Law, WSU has required all first-year students and staff to complete anti-hazing training.

Hazing can take place before the school year even begins, though, as recruiting begins in June.

There has been one report of hazing at WSU since 2019, according to violation reports.

WSU also created a hazing prevention presentation in July, as well as a hazing prevention committee, which had its first meeting in late December.

The committee reviews and gives feedback on anti-hazing programs at WSU. The group is set to meet at least twice a year, once each during fall and spring semesters. New employees and students must complete mandatory anti-hazing training as well. A WSU spokesperson said in an email that the committee will recommend how to give existing students anti-hazing training.

In an email, the WSU Interfraternity Council signaled support for the bill.

“We as a council condemn hazing in any fashion as it has no space in our community,” spokesperson Bryce Becker wrote. “We find this bill in good faith as it can continue to act as a deterrent of hazing in the future.”

Charlie Gartenberg, a close friend of Martinez’s, testified at the bill hearing and shared hazing stories, like being made to eat whole raw onions or drink large amounts of alcohol, among other physical activities.

Gartenberg was the former director of recruitment for the Interfraternity Council and said fraternities received “slaps on the wrist” for reports of hazing, such as no partying for one week.

“In the sense of hazing, that still happens. I mean, my fraternity, like every fraternity, it just does it and they try to be as secretive as they can about it,” Gartenberg said.

“We just have to stand up and say this is not acceptable anymore,” Houtz said. “You can’t take our young people. We need them. We need them all.”