UVa cuts off hazing-suspect fraternity
By Ted Strong
A prosecutor has decided not to file charges against University of Virginia fraternity members in the wake of a potential hazing incident because of the victim’s reluctance to testify, but the university has revoked the fraternity’s affiliation with the school.
“I … have determined that we would not be able to prove the case, in some part at least because the victim really, I think, is hesitant … to testify in the case,” said Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford.
The then-19-year-old pledge at the Zeta Psi fraternity had seizures and foamed at the mouth after eating a meal of dog food, matzo balls, gefilte fish and 12 to 18 ounces of soy sauce, according to court documents.
The man was hospitalized for treatment of an electrolyte imbalance caused by the sodium in the soy sauce, according to court documents.
“I am extremely concerned about what happened that night,” Lunsford said.
There were indications that reckless or dishonest behavior might have occurred, but the victim’s wishes are an important factor in deciding whether to bring charges, she said.
The fraternity was notified Monday that Dean of Students Allen W. Groves had decided not to renew the affiliation agreement, Groves said. He came to the decision after consulting with a number of other university officials, as well as university police, he said.
“I was convinced that there was substantial evidence of serious misconduct that had placed students at risk,” he said. “I also considered the overall pattern of conduct for the fraternity for the past academic year and I concluded that the correct option was to terminate … the [agreement].”
The decision doesn’t automatically shut down the fraternity, Groves said, but rather withdraws benefits they get from being affiliated with the university, such as the use of university computer servers and the recruitment process.
But early indications are that the group won’t be occupying its fraternity house this coming fall, the dean said. The fraternity’s alumni corporation owns the house itself, while the university owns the land upon which it sits, Groves said.
University officials are punishing the organization as a whole rather than singling out individual brothers for disciplinary action, Groves said.
“We’re treating it as an organizational issue,” he said.
University officials would consider a petition for the fraternity to again be recognized in the fall of 2013, Groves said.
“The Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America has followed the incident with our Beta Chapter at the University of Virginia very closely,” wrote David Hunter, executive director of the national organization, in an email.
“The university has decided not to recognize our chapter for a two-year period. Zeta Psi fully supports that position. Zeta Psi does not condone activities that include hazing of potential members. We hope to be able to return to the Virginia campus in 2013.”
Zeta Psi is the second group to lose its university affiliation in the last two years, according to Groves, with Sigma Phi Epsilon being the other.