Assault Allegations Shock Campus

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Five Penn students face criminal charges for the alleged assault of a Princeton University student who was visiting the campus in November for a debate tournament. The students reportedly entered a Quadrangle lounge where Princeton student John Brantl was sleeping at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday, November 16; poured motor oil on him; and flicked a lit cigarette at him.

Accused are: College freshmen David Hochfelder and Philip Balderston, College sophomore Thomas Bispham Jr., Wharton sophomore Tavraj Banga, and College senior Steven Stolk. The students turned themselves in to Penn Police about a week and a half after the alleged incident—after Brantl decided to press charges. None of the accused is affiliated with Penn’s debating team.

In a statement, President Judith Rodin and Provost Robert Barchi called the allegations “very serious,” adding that they have “shocked and appalled our community. Many people have been working hard since the time of the incident to make sure that appropriate action is taken.” In addition to involving the police, they said, Penn has “engaged with full dispatch” its own student-disciplinary system.

Student-disciplinary proceedings are confidential, and Office of Student Conduct director Michele Goldfarb said it would be “irresponsible to speculate” on sanctions until the investigation is completed. For any given case, punishments can range from warnings and reprimands to expulsion. “The sanction imposed reflects our conclusions about the misconduct,” Goldfarb said, and “if the facts show that the students have different levels of involvement, that will be reflected in the charges.”

Penn’s administration also has been in contact with several Princeton officials, “and will continue to communicate with them” as the investigations continue, Rodin and Barchi stated.

A preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to keep the criminal charges—which include aggravated assault, terroristic threats, and reckless endangerment of another person’s life—was postponed until December 17 (after the Gazette went to press).

Citing unnamed sources, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported that all five of the students have a link to an underground group known as the Owl Society: the three upperclassmen are members and the two freshmen wanted to join. Goldfarb, in the Office of Student Conduct, said that she had heard the same rumors, but could neither confirm nor deny them.

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