Saturday, November 04, 2006

UCF SAE Suspended for Possible Hazing

SAE pledges found 'sobbing,' in costume
Central Florida FutureNovember 3, 2006
By Melissa Patterson

“The inside of the common area reeked of beer, urine and vomit.”

This and other startling statements were included in a UCF Police Department report released Thursday.

The report detailed the Oct. 26 incident that led to the suspension of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which was upheld Thursday. The 3 p.m. hearing called by the Office of Student Conduct determined that the office was justified in suspending SAE, and that the fraternity will remain on suspension until the next hearing. UCF police reported that officers responding to a call about possible hazing arrived at the SAE house shortly after midnight Oct. 26 and heard "agitated and aggressive screaming," profanity, and "weeping and moaning."

UCF officials had refused for a week to release the police incident report and even denied its existence. They cited confidentiality concerns under federal and state education privacy laws. Meanwhile, UCF police, following policy, refused to discuss the investigation in progress. But the report was somehow circulated at UCF to non-law enforcement offices and groups; UCF's media relations released it to the press for the first time Thursday.

In the report, UCF police gave the following account of the incident:
SAE members at first tried to deny police entry because they were performing a "ritual," but "fearing for the safety of the people inside," police entered the house.

Inside, police found men "sobbing," "practically naked," and dressed in costume, including one man wearing a rainbow-colored wig and diaper, and another man wearing "women's bras and panties."

Police contacted Orange County Rescue when some of the men were deemed in need of medical attention, citing that one man "appeared to have trouble breathing." Another man received assistance in order to "keep him from lying in his own vomit," and one "could not walk under his own power."

Orange County Rescue transported three men, whose names have not been disclosed, to Florida Hospital East. They were released the same night.

Police found "numerous" beer cans and bottles, one mostly consumed bottle of rum and "numerous mangled hotdogs" scattered on the floor of the SAE house.

The Office of Student Conduct plans to schedule a meeting to hear the facts of the case by the end of next week, UCF spokesman Tom Evelyn said. SAE may receive punishment in three separate ways: criminal, university and chapter.

SAE headquarters issued a cease-and-desist order - meaning the chapter's operations are suspended pending an investigation by the headquarters - in response to the incident.

"Fraternity officials have reviewed the police reports associated with the incidents and are deeply disturbed by the details," the headquarters stated Thursday in a press release.

"This type of behavior by our members will not be tolerated on any level," said Brandon Weghorst, spokesman for the fraternity headquarters. "Based on the details in the report, the chapter violated major risk-management guidelines and chapter operations expectations."

The release further stated that the fraternity's board of directors will make its final decision on the future of the chapter next week.

SAE headquarters may choose to conduct a membership review, in which alumni would interview each active member and decide whether he gets to keep his membership. Then the chapter would operate under an alumni advisory group, which would have to approve all of its operations.

The board may also choose to close the chapter. Members would be automatically suspended from the fraternity, and the chapter would remain dormant for a predetermined period of time. The university may agree to allow SAE to petition for recognition in a few years.

A finding of hazing could result in charges of either a misdemeanor or felony offense. No SAE member has been charged with a crime yet, but the case remains under investigation. The blood-alcohol level of the victims could be used to determine the severity of the offense. If the levels were very high, that could constitute "serious bodily injury," which could mean a felony charge.

On a university level, any organization found to be in violation of student conduct rules could face the following sanctions: an official request to the fraternity headquarters that the local chapter charter be revoked; permanent severance of SAE's relationship with UCF; or temporary severance of SAE's relationship with UCF, with a specified period of time and requirements that must be satisfied before re-registration.

Several UCF officials and groups have met over the past week to discuss the SAE incident. But those meetings, which may have been subject to the state's open meetings law, were closed to the public. That includes a meeting Monday called by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Interfraternity Council.Some people present at Monday's meeting said anyone who wasn't on a "list" was turned away, including at least one SAE member.

SAE President Dru Dalton was given 10 minutes to state his case and then was asked to leave.Belinda Boston, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, was asked to provide statutory justification for closing a meeting of organizations funded indirectly by SGA's Greek Council budget. She refused to provide the justification.