NISKAYUNA — As Penn State fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza fought for his life after an alcohol-induced fall on Feb. 3, Niskayuna native Braxton Becker discussed the fraternity’s surveillance video, according to a new account out this week.
Becker, a frat member and the house manager, received a text message from another member that suggested erasing the videos.
“Erasing the cameras could be the look as long as no one found out,” the fellow member messaged the 2014 Niskayuna High grad Becker, according to the account.
Becker responded, “I think the exact same thing … The guy told me to check them in like a few days to make sure they were recording. I could say I checked and they weren’t and just turned them on … I want to talk to Brendan”.
On Feb. 6, Pennsylvania investigators said this week, Becker did just that, he erased crucial video — as a detective watched. Piazza died of his injuries Feb.4.
The detective reported that Becker told him the four surveillance cameras weren’t working, “and the people installing them were in the process of fixing them.”
Investigators have since recovered the deleted video and traced the time of deletion — to the exact time Becker met with the detective over the system.
The account is contained in an affidavit filed this week in a Pennsylvania court. It offers new details and refines others presented at a news conference Monday announcing new charges against Becker and others in the case.
Becker now faces three charges: tampering with physical evidence, obstructing administration of law and hindering apprehension, all misdemeanors.
In total, 17 Beta Theta Pi fraternity members face new charges based on the basement video evidence, including five for involuntary manslaughter. Charges against Becker are limited to the tampering, obstructing and hindering counts.
Becker’s attorney has not returned phone calls for comment this week.
Before heading to Penn State, Becker won a $5,000 leadership scholarship from the Schenectady Foundation. That award was announced in August 2014.
Police in State College, Pa., learned of the existence of the video during a court hearing in July, and an investigator ultimately turned to the FBI for help in recovering the images from the recording device.
Investigators used the recovered video to determine that fraternity members gave Piazza at least 18 drinks over the course of 1 hour and 22 minutes, the affidavit reads.
The detective who sought the device Feb. 6 took photos of the events, including pictures of Becker accessing the locked equipment closet and Becker sitting at the machine.
“He also obtained photos of what he believed was an IP address because he did not trust Becker,” the account reads.
Becker said only he and one other frat member had access to the room, but only Becker knew how to use it.
“Becker knew Detective Ripka was obtaining the photographs as he allowed them to be taken when he asked him,” the affidavit reads.
The lengthy account concludes with the detailed contents of the recovered basement video.
The investigator “has evidence that [Becker] was the only person in the video room when the video was deleted,” the account reads. “There is also probable cause to believe this video was intentionally deleted to conceal the worse of the furnishing and hazing activities of the pledges from the night in question that involved numerous brothers.”
Among other Becker text messages included in the affidavit:
Feb. 3: Becker’s girlfriend texts questioning whether frat members were responsible for Piazza’s fall and death. Becker responds, “No that’s the thing … Is like it was because he was technically hazed into drinking that much.”
Feb. 3: Another frat member asks what tapes police had taken by that point, “Like is the obstacle course on it?” Becker responds that no, they took other times. “We should be good … On that front at least.”
Piazza’s death becomes known Feb. 4, the affidavit reads.
Feb. 4: Becker to another member — “It’s awful Jeff. We got sloppy. Nugget for the last few days was saying we shouldn’t get the kids this [expletive] up on their first night but no one listened”.