Hazing in Greek system not frequently litigated
By Shaun Bishop
March 20, 2005 9:00 p.m.
Matthew Carrington sat in the cold basement, soaked and
shivering, surrounded by his peers.
He had ingested gallons upon gallons of water that night in a
pledge initiation ritual for his fraternity, Chi Tau.
He was dead the next morning.
Carrington was a victim of an alleged case of hazing at Cal
State Chico University. Four students have been charged with
manslaughter, along with eight charged with hazing, in the wake of
Carrington’s death on Feb. 2 due to “water
intoxication.” As Chico’s university community
continues to mourn while the trial for the involved fraternity
members is pending, the city is witnessing its first case ever of
students being charged with hazing.
Hazing is a misdemeanor under the California Education Code,
punishable by a maximum year in jail and $5,000 fine.
But barring extreme circumstances such as a death or mutilation,
incidents of hazing are infrequently litigated, forcing the
university to deal with the problem internally, attorneys and
university officials say.
UCLA has been fortunate enough not to have a comparable incident
resulting in death, at least for as long as Joan Brown, associate
director of the Center for Student Programming, has been here. She
said it is hard to know how prevalent hazing is at UCLA, and that
the CSP’s main role is educating and trying to prevent
incidents like Chico’s before they happen.
“My guess is it’s not a big problem (at UCLA);
doesn’t mean it’s not going on,” Brown said.
“I wish I could say “˜no’ absolutely with
certainty. I can’t.”
Several UCLA houses have been sanctioned in recent years for
incidents related to hazing. The most severe penalty was imposed on
fraternity Sigma Chi in fall 2003, when the fraternity’s
university recognition was revoked after members admitted to UCLA
officials that they had participated in hazing activities. It was
reinstated this year.
At least two other organizations, fraternity Zeta Beta Tau and
sorority Pi Beta Phi, have been penalized with hazing-related
stipulations in their sanctions in the past year, according to
documents obtained by The Bruin. ZBT, which was on probation of
recognition through the end of this quarter, was instructed to
“Develop a workshop … on the impact and implications of
alcohol and hazing” and Pi Beta Phi members were told to
“sign a non-hazing agreement” and “ensure that
hazing is not part of the (pledge education) program,” among
The last time an incident allegedly involving hazing at UCLA was
sent to the courts was in 2001, when student Robert Burgess sued
fraternity Sigma Pi after he crashed his car while driving drunk.
He said fraternity members forced him to drink large quantities of
alcohol and gave him the keys. The status of that case is
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman in the Los Angeles City
Attorney’s Office, which handles misdemeanor cases, said he
could find no hazing charges in the office’s records. He said
it is likely that someone accused of hazing would be brought up on
other charges related to the incident, such as battery.
The District Attorney’s office did not return a phone call
requesting information on cases of hazing.
Carrington’s was the second death for Chico State in five
years, after Adrian Heideman died of alcohol poisoning while
pledging fraternity Pi Kappa Phi in 2000. In that case, three
students were convicted of furnishing alcohol to a minor, a
misdemeanor, and served 30 days in jail.
But officials say it is often difficult to even get the name of
a victim or suspect to give to police, which forces universities to
deal with hazing allegations internally.
“Most misdemeanor crimes, there isn’t much the D.A.
can do if there’s no victim. That doesn’t mean we
don’t talk with them, but the reality is their hands get tied
very quickly,” said Rick Rees, associate director of
Chico’s Student Activities Center. Rees said parents will
often call to complain about their child being hazed, but will
refuse to give names or will tell the university not to tell anyone
else, which makes it impossible to bring charges.
Brown said at UCLA, it is “pretty rare” that
students who have been hazed will give names of individuals who
hazed them, saying organizations often “close ranks”
and stand together as a unit when confronted with situations.
“Are you going to get a brother or sister suspended from
their academic career?” Brown asked rhetorically.
Mike Ramsey, the Butte County district attorney who is
prosecuting the Chico case, said the county filed hazing charges
for the first time in county history because the charge seemed
appropriate given the circumstances of the case.
Ramsey said the county was close to filing a hazing charge last
year when a student suffering from hypothermia complained of having
to sit in a pool of ice water for five hours, but he later became
uncooperative in giving police information as to who was
That same student is now one of the charged defendants in the
“We don’t have defendants, we don’t have
suspects to question, we don’t have suspects to charge”
when students refuse to give information, Ramsey said.
Lack of awareness about hazing is another reason why many hazing
cases don’t make it to criminal charges, said Douglas
Fierberg, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s a larger problem than the public
generally understands,” he said.
Fierberg is currently involved in hazing cases across the
country, and is representing Carrington’s parents in a
separate civil suit. He has also experienced difficulty getting
information about specific incidents as a result of pacts made
within the memberships of Greek organizations.
“In many cases, the individuals have lied to the police,
lied to the public, lied to the families about what was going
on,” he said.
“It is extremely difficult to break through that oath of
loyalty and secrecy.”
Chris Hatfield, president of UCLA’s Interfraternity
Council, said all Greek organizations must deal with hazing in some
way because it happens within the system as a whole.
“I think no matter what Greek house you’re in,
it’s an issue, whether or not it happens” in that
house, Hatfield said.
IFC’s main role is to educate in an attempt to prevent
events before they happen, he said. The council, the student
governing body for the fraternity system, participates little in
the penalty process, which is left up to the university.
“The fact that these things are on CNN … just shows how
much one incident can affect the Greek community,” Hatfield
Rees said the entire Chico Greek system has moved to
non-alcoholic social events until the end of the semester, and a
campus-wide task force has been formed to give Chico’s
president a report on Greek life and student safety.
Brown echoed Hatfield’s emphasis on preventative
education, and using penalties as a teaching tool.
“The purpose of discipline in an educational setting is
what? Education,” Brown said. “We want to make people
understand that you are accountable for your actions.”
Ramsey said he hopes people take notice of those being charged
with hazing in the Carrington case.
“Hopefully, we’ll send a message that is very clear,
that hazing is no juvenile prank. It has criminal
consequences,” Ramsey said.