ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University and the family of Antonio Tsialas have reached a settlement, ending a nearly year-long lawsuit filed in January over Tsialas’ death following a frat party in Oct. 2019. Cornell University Police Department has also announced that it will not be bringing charges in the case, a decision issued last night on Facebook.
Tsialas’ body was found in the Ithaca Falls gorge on Oct. 24, 2019 after he didn’t meet meet his mother, who was in Ithaca for Parents Weekend, for breakfast. Tsialas was a freshman in his first semester at Cornell, and the last place he was seen alive was at a “dirty rush” event held by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Police announced Monday night that, as they have maintained for many months, they had still found no reason to suspect foul play in Tsialas’ death.
The police had previously referred the fraternity to the school’s Greek life misconduct process, which resulted in the local chapter having its official status revoked permanently and 31 students being referred to the Judicial Administrator’s Office for code of conduct violations. Their specific punishments were not released, with police citing privacy laws.
The settlement brings to an end the civil lawsuit brought by the Tsialas family against Cornell, the Phi Kappa Psi local chapter, the Phi Kappa Psi national organization and several officers with the fraternity’s Cornell chapter.
The settlement includes a financial component, though terms of the monetary agreement between the school and the family are confidential, according to David Bianchi, the Miami-based attorney who represented the Tsialas family throughout the lawsuit.
There were also other tenets that were agreed upon and Bianchi could announce, however: A perpetual scholarship will be awarded to an incoming student every year that will bear Antonio Tsialas’ name; the annual anti-hazing program will be named the Antonio Tsialas Memorial Anti-Hazing Program; the school had to turn over the entire police investigation file since the case began and hold a Zoom conference with a contingent of attorneys representing the family discussing the investigation; Cornell is required to turn over the results of the internal disciplinary process against students who were involved in the party that preceded Tsialas’ death, as well as the aforementioned financial payment.
“We’ve just passed the one year anniversary of (Antonio’s) death, and we don’t know how or why he died,” Bianchi said. “We’ve done everything we can think of to try to get the answer to that question, including offering reward money, taking out ads in the paper, hiring three different private investigators, and we still don’t have the answer. We believe there are one or more persons out there who know what happened to him, but we don’t know. ”
Cornell Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina issued the following statement in relation to the settlement.
“The tragic death last year of Antonio Tsialas left an indelible void that continues to be felt across our campus today,” he wrote. “Our students, faculty and staff who had the pleasure to know him speak of the impact that he had on their lives, inspiring those of us who never had an opportunity to meet him. He was a remarkable young man who was taken from the world far too prematurely. We welcome the resolution of the case and the programmatic actions Cornell is implementing through which Antonio’s memory will live on at Cornell, helping to promote the safety and well-being of our current and future students and, hopefully, bringing some solace to his family for their enduring loss.”
Despite being adequately satisfied with the process of the investigation, Bianchi said they were not pleased that charges wouldn’t be brought at all in the case, which was announced in a Facebook post by CUPD Monday night. Bianchi said it seemed like the wrong conclusion to reach considering the New York statutes that are in place regarding hazing charges and the materials that had been presented to the family as part of the investigation.
“Investigators were not able to determine Tsialas’ path of travel after leaving the fraternity, or why he was at the overlook,” Cornell police wrote. “CUPD did not identify any evidence or reason to suspect foul play at that location, and the death remains an accidental death due to a fall from a height as classified by the medical examiner. (…) On November 20, 2020, CUPD briefed the Tsialas family on the findings of the investigation and answered questions. CUPD provided the briefing with the sincere hope that it would provide some measure of closure to the family for their tragic loss.”
The decision not to move forward with charges against anyone involved was not part of the settlement agreement with the school, Bianchi said.
The Tompkins County District Attorney has additionally declined to press charges in relation to the event. A request for comment to DA Matt Van Houten has not been answered so far.
“It’s indefensible,” Bianchi said in response to CUPD’s decision. “If you don’t bring hazing charges under the circumstances of this case, when are you ever going to enforce that law?”