Norwich University branding and waterboarding hazing probe leads to criminal charges

Norwich University at Northfield. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

An investigation into branding and waterboarding allegations involving two Norwich University women’s sports teams has led to six students facing civil violations for hazing, with three facing criminal charges.

Northfield Police launched their investigation last month after receiving a report on March 20 from a member of the women’s rugby team, identified in court records as Amanda Lodi, that she had been threatened by someone with a knife in a college dorm.

In a police interview two days later, Lodi told police she had been ‘marked’ that night by other members of the rugby team and believed they had used pliers and a lighter to do so, according to court documents in the case. Lodi told police she would not have consented had she been sober, according to the record.

Police said they examined Lodi’s cellphone, with her permission, and found a video on Snapchat showing Lodi holding a chair while another woman sits on it with a washcloth over her face.

Another woman then poured liquid onto the fabric, which a Northfield police officer described in the filing as a “technique I would call waterboarding.”

Police said Friday that following an investigation, six students at Northfield Private Military School, aged 20 to 22, were issued “hazing tickets”. Tickets are for civil violations with cases heard at the State Judicial Office.

The penalty for a hazing ticket can be up to $5,000, but if a person does not dispute it, they can pay a waiver penalty of $1,000, according to Norwich Police Chief John Helfant.

“The Legislature, when it created the hazing act, made it a contravention and not a criminal offence,” he said.

Three of those students receiving civil tickets also received criminal citations in Washington County Superior Court.

One of the students, 21, is charged with common assault and reckless endangerment, Helfant said.

The student, according to the police chief, is being charged under the state’s Young Offenders Act, which allows people 21 and under to have their case heard in closed family court. As a result, he said, he is not releasing that person’s name.

“We treat them like a juvenile case,” Helfant said of those charged under that law.

Two other students will have their cases heard in county adult criminal court. Bryana Pena, 22, is charged with common assault, and Lodi, also 22, is charged with reckless endangerment, Helfant said.

Pena and Lodi were summoned to appear in court for arraignment on July 13.

Attempts to reach Pena and Lodi for comment Friday afternoon by phone and via Facebook were unsuccessful.

Helfant said Pena and the 21-year-old student were charged with tagging Lodi.

The police chief said Lodi and the 21-year-old allegedly participated in the waterboarding of another student.

Helfant said some students were only given civil hazing tickets — and not criminally charged — because the mark in those cases was voluntary.

“They did it to another student, and that student volunteered to do it,” he said.

According to the police chief, the criminal charges involved allegations that a person had not consented or was so impaired that they could not consent voluntarily.

Helfant said the six students were members of the women’s rugby team. But a Norwich University spokeswoman, Daphne Larkin, said one was a member of the women’s lacrosse team.

A webpage for the women’s rugby team roster was replaced with a message that the misconduct allegations had attracted media attention, with media outlets linking to the team’s webpage as part of a a story.

“When we became aware of the link, we concluded that it was appropriate to protect the privacy of the student-athletes,” the message read. “We have temporarily removed the team roster with their personally identifying information from the website.”

The women’s lacrosse team roster webpage lists Pena as a member.

Helfant said the investigation did not turn up evidence that someone with a knife attacked Lodi that night, as originally reported. Additionally, the police chief said, the investigation did not uncover evidence “at this time” that any coaches knew about the hazing.

A female student told police she was aware of the branding happening at school and that ‘usually the brass collar of corps uniforms’ was used.

The student said the “NU” would be heated and used to brand someone, and she knew of a student who had one on his posterior, according to a court filing.

A filing also said a Northfield police officer who had previously worked in Norwich security ‘knew individuals were branded’ with the brass ‘NU’ collar of their uniforms.

Larkin, the school’s spokesperson, wrote in an email Friday that the university has a “zero tolerance” policy on hazing.

“The student-athletes named in the investigation were suspended immediately following the incident from representing the university in an athletic competition,” Larkin wrote.

The university has completed its own investigations and “will take appropriate disciplinary action,” Larkin said. She wrote that she could not provide further details on student discipline due to federal law.

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