City councilman requested ceremony for PSU fraternity

A request from City Councilman Bill Neugebauer, who is also National Grand President of Phi Sigma Kappa, provided Penn State Altoona’s suspended fraternity the opportunity to hold an on-campus ceremony Wednesday.

That ceremony, a funeral ritual for brother Marquise Braham, ended in a confrontation that police said could have escalated to a fight between fraternity brothers and two investigators hired by Braham’s family.

Phi Sigma Kappa is suspended pending investigations into potential code of conduct violations, as well as criminal acts. The family of Marquise Braham, a freshman student who jumped to his death March 14, believes hazing rituals of the fraternity led to the suicide.

“Bill asked the campus if they would be allowed to perform the funeral ritual,” spokeswoman Shari Routch stated in an email.

“We permitted this to occur, as long as it was open to the public, which it was, and as long as that Braham family agreed, which they did.”

An administrator from the Residence Life department presented the family with that information late Wednesday afternoon while on campus, family spokesman Mike Paul said.

Marquise’s father, Rich Braham, was shocked because he knew the fraternity was on suspension from holding official activities, Paul said. However, he felt it was the university’s decision, and it was not his place to prevent the ceremony. He decided he and his family would not attend.

Neugebauer, longtime advisor to the Altoona’s Phi Sigma Kappa chapter, led the fraternity through a prayer and memorial rite for Braham in the Slep Student Center.

The investigators took photos despite requests from fraternity members not to do so. Both men represented the Feldstein Grinberg Lang & McKee law firm, based in Pittsburgh.

One of the men took photos from outside windows of the Slep building. When fraternity brothers saw that, they drew blinds and taunted the man, who did not relent in trying to find an open window. Another investigator was inside the room taking photos. He declined to obey a request of a fraternity member who asked him not to take photographs “unless someone representing the university” asked him to stop, he said. The men neither identified themselves as investigators to the fraternity, nor did they reveal the reason for their desire to take photographs of the ceremony.

“There was no discussion or agreement as to their taking photos; just as the media and others in attendance were permitted to take photos during the services, they would be permitted, as well,” campus spokeswoman Shari Routch said.

The fraternity ritual followed a service coordinated by the Residence Hall Association, which is comprised of students, Routch said.

“Penn State Altoona extended an invitation to the Braham family to attend last night’s memorial service, which they accepted. They were welcome to bring with them anyone that they wanted,” she stated in response to questions about the investigators’ presence.

The service preceding the fraternity gathering was filled with fond memories of Braham, tears and music. Braham’s father wailed during a song.

Fraternity members filled one side of the room, and many of them cried.

Neugebauer and Michael Carey, the executive vice president of the fraternity from Indianapolis, sat beside each other.

Carey, the national fraternity’s spokesman in the wake of Braham’s death and the hazing accusations, had said the national fraternity launched an internal investigation. Carey said that investigation is taking a back seat to the campus’ investigation, but it is to be completed.

Neugebauer has not addressed Braham’s death or any investigation publicly. Carey has been the spokesman because he is a paid member of the fraternity, Neugebauer said. Neugebauer said his position is on a volunteer basis.

Neugebauer said, when invited, he attends initiations and other fraternity events at chapters. Neugebauer said he has not been subject to any investigation including the one conducted internally by the fraternity.

“I haven’t seen any hazing going on, no,” he said. “I am here in support of this chapter as I would be with any chapter.”

He confirmed that he had been the fraternity’s advisor but is no longer in that position.

A 2013-14 photo of the fraternity’s members, including Braham, also includes Neugebauer at the center of the photo with the title of advisor.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.