Hazing suit: Utah State ignored frat’s ‘culture of drug, alcohol abuse’

By Brian Maffly
The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah State University officials long tolerated “a culture of drug and alcohol abuse” at a fraternity house where a teenage freshman pledge died of alcohol poisoning after an alleged hazing last fall, his family claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Logan’s 1st District Court.

The Sigma Nu fraternity chapter had long been the scene of misconduct, including an alcohol-related suicide by hanging, underage drinking, arson, thefts, vandalism, false fire alarms and assaults, contend lawyers representing the teen’s parents, Jane and George Starks, of Salt Lake City.

“If the university had done its job and monitored this fraternity and used the powers it has to discipline the fraternity and its members, it probably would not have existed when Michael Starks got to USU,” said Charlie Thronson of the Salt Lake City law firm Parsons, Behle and Latimer.

The suit not only accuses fraternity chapters of straying from their chartering principles, but argues that universities have a legal obligation to bring student organizations into line, especially if they encourage students to join.

USU officials expressed sympathy for the Starkses, but denied the school is liable for their son’s fate.
“The safety and well-being of all of our students are a primary concern,” said university spokesman John DeVilbiss. “We take issue, however, regarding the university’s responsibility to students participating in off-campus, non-university activities.”

Sigma Nu Executive Director Brad Beacham declined to comment.

USU’s Greek-letter houses line 800 East, across the street from the Logan campus. While fraternity chapters affiliate with campuses at the pleasure of the institutions, they are chartered by their national organizations, which are responsible for ensuring chapters live up to their ideals of leadership, community service and camaraderie.
But Sigma Nu’s Logan chapter had a seamy underside of ritualistic alcohol abuse and chronic lawlessness, the Starkses allege. The university’s tolerance of the bad behavior, which should have been known to officials, was tantamount to approval.

“It’s permission by inaction,” Thronson said. “They turned a blind eye.” Full story.


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