Hazing investigation concluded

Though no criminal charges will be filed against USF‘s chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity for allegedly hazing its pledges, the University won’t lift the organization’s suspension.

According to allegations brought forward by one of the fraternity’s pledges, eight men, including seven USF alumni, beat eight fraternity pledges at 2112 W. Busch Blvd., formerly the Caribbean Delights restaurant, between Aug. 22 and 23, 2010. The 10-month investigation of the allegations concluded Friday after the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office decided that there is no statute to effectively prosecute the men.

The case was referred to the State Attorney’s Office by the Tampa Police Department, which conducted the initial investigation and made no arrests, said State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mark Cox. Cox said the case was closed and no criminal charges were filed against the fraternity members because attempts to prosecute them would have likely been unsuccessful.

“We had to look at the facts and then look at the applicable laws, and that was the hazing and battery statutes, and we felt like we didn’t have a reasonable likelihood of success in court,” he said.

Cox said there were eight possible victims, six of whom did not cooperate with the investigation.

“One gave (a) conflicting (story), I think three different stories (were told all together) and only one victim was fully cooperative,” he said.

The office first considered criminal charges under Florida’s hazing statute, but the action was not considered hazing by law, Cox said. Because the chapter did not file forms with the University to conduct recruiting for 2010, the pursuant recruitment process was not sanctioned by USF.

“Although this was a (USF) recognized fraternity, they were not sanctioned and recognized under the hazing statutes,” he said. “The fact that we couldn’t charge them under the hazing statute was crucial, because if you can use that, consent (by the victim) doesn’t matter – whether the victim gave it or not.”

Cox said the office then considered battery charges. However, there were problems applying the state’s statutes against battery because the pledges consented to the alleged hazing and inflicted pain upon themselves.

Though the case has been closed, Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall said the University differs with the law on what it considers University sanctioned.

“We don’t agree with the state attorney’s ruling on (whether the chapter was sanctioned at the time of the incident),” she said. “According to our code of conduct, they were a registered, recognized and active organization on our campus. Therefore, we charged them as a fraternity.”

USF first suspended the fraternity when the initial investigation began in August, a standard procedure meaning it is not recognized as an organization by the University and has none of the rights and responsibilities that other organizations do, Meningall said.

She said the fraternity has the right to request a review of their suspension or a reinstatement of their USF chapter, but “it would be hard for (her) to approve their reinstatement.”

Pi Iota, the Tampa chapter of Omega Psi Phi, could not be reached for comment.