Four former pledges of an expelled Kansas University fraternity say they were subjected to extended hazing, including sleep deprivation, being forced to eat live goldfish and being made to roll in a pit of urine and feces.
"Look, this isn't what I would qualify as Guantanamo Bay-type torture. These aren't CIA interrogation tactics, but clearly at least what I consider pretty offensive, over-the-top hazing," said Charles Schimmel, an attorney who is representing the four men in a lawsuit filed in Douglas County District Court. "All of these guys feel very betrayed and very upset."
The lawsuit is against the alumni corporation of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, which was kicked off campus in March after police seized 16 kegs of beer from one of its parties.
It's the third allegation this year of fraternity-related hazing at KU, each case involving a different fraternity. KU has 19 fraternities.
Kevin Lampe, a spokesman at Phi Kappa Theta's national office, said he didn't know about the allegations in the lawsuit until notified Thursday.
"We will look at these, and we will take them very seriously," he said.
KU officials announced Monday that Kappa Sigma fraternity was investigating the local chapter, 1045 Emery Road, following a hazing allegation. As of this week the probe had found little evidence of hazing but found evidence of underage drinking and other "inappropriate behavior."
Also, the local chapter of Sigma Nu, 1501 Sigma Nu Place, was closed earlier this semester after hazing allegations.
- 6News video: Former pledges suing KU fraternity for hazing (11-17-05)
- Winfrey, Trotter, Kennedy, Brittain vs. Kansas Alumni Association of Phi Kappa Theta and Vetter (.pdf)
- Phi Kappa Theta contract for room and board (.pdf)
- Allegations investigated at KU fraternity (11-15-05)
- Vacated fraternity house at KU trashed by vandals (06-03-05)
- Phi Kappa Theta loses appeal to prevent expulsion (04-01-05)
- KU expels fraternity (03-08-05)
- Kegs seized at frat party (02-22-05)
Those cases prompted Marlesa Roney, KU's vice provost for student success, to issue a statement earlier this week saying hazing "is an affront to human dignity and will not be tolerated."
Before it was kicked off campus for the keg party, KU's chapter of Phi Kappa Theta was placed on disciplinary probation for hazing in 1998.
The four former Phi Kappa Theta pledges - Jeremy Winfrey, David Trotter, Eric Kennedy and Mark Brittain - are seeking damages of more than $50,000. They say the hazing began shortly after they moved into the house in August 2004 and included sexual harassment, psychological and verbal abuse, and being forced to sleep in overly crowded quarters.
Winfrey claims that on Nov. 15, 2004, he fell asleep at the wheel after a night of being kept in a small room with 11 other pledges and subjected to "verbal and physical" abuse. He struck another vehicle, crashed into a ditch, and was hospitalized, according to the lawsuit.
The suit names the fraternity's local "alumni corporation," a group made up of alumni who oversee the house's operations. It also specifically names the acting president, Christopher Vetter.
Trotter alleges that in April 2005, Vetter awoke him in his room without warning, began throwing his personal property out of the room and put him in a head lock.
"There were allegations that Mr. Trotter was behind in some house payments," attorney Schimmel said.
Lawrence Police took a report of battery and criminal damage at the fraternity house on April 8, said Sgt. Dan Ward, a police spokesman. Trotter was listed as the victim in that case.
Vetter would not comment regarding the specific incident but would speak to the hazing allegations in general.
"I had been threatened with a lawsuit before because these guys didn't want to pay their last month's rent." Vetter said.
Vetter added that the men did not come to the board previous to the lawsuit with hazing allegations. However, he says there was talk of separate hazing instances during the fraternity's charter hearings last spring.
"A few reports of hazing came up but not these specific instances." Vetter said.
- 6News anchor/reporter Janet Reid and 6News reporter Brooke Wehner contributed information to this article.