Grand jury issues indictments in JSU hazing
by Paige Rentz
An alleged fraternity hazing incident that took place last year in Jacksonville has resulted in criminal indictments from a Calhoun County grand jury.

The grand jury recently returned several interim indictments related to an off-campus incident in November 2011 that involved a Jacksonville State University fraternity, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said Monday.

Interim indictments, McVeigh said, mean “those individuals have been issued indictments, and additional indictments and/or arrest warrants are likely to come.”

McVeigh said the grand jury is still hearing testimony in its investigation. He said he could not release more information on the indictments until they had been served, a process which he said could take one to two weeks.

The district attorney also said he couldn’t name the fraternity or the individuals involved at present, but did say the indictments stem from a Nov. 26, 2011, incident in which seven pledges were allegedly hazed, two of whom ended up in the hospital.

An attorney for the university in January named the Xi Xi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha as the fraternity connected to the alleged incident.

Jacksonville State has dismissed the fraternity from campus, according to university Provost Rebecca Turner.

Turner said the university followed the judicial process outlined in the school’s student handbook in dealing with the hazing allegations, and the committee formed to hear the case dismissed the fraternity.

“In this case we were convinced, so the hearing process gave us the evidence that we thought was compelling, so we dismissed the fraternity.”

Turner would not identify the fraternity in question on Monday, saying it already had been identified in the public record.

“We took a sanction that was serious enough that they can’t engage in any activity on campus or off,” Turner said.

A pending civil action filed by Jason Horton in Calhoun County Circuit Court alleges the hazing incident lasted for about five hours.

The plaintiff was a pledge of the Jacksonville of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity between August and November 2011, the suit states.

During that time, Horton’s complaint states, fraternity members forced pledges to consume large quantities of alcohol, struck them with eggs and other flying objects and beat them for long periods of time with fists and paddles.

According to the complaint, fraternity members told the pledges they would not be subjected to hazing.

The complaint, filed in July, also claims that when Horton vomited blood the next day, active members of the fraternity chapter repeatedly told him that it was tomato sauce and discouraged him from seeking medical treatment. When he was taken to the hospital later that night, the complaint states, he was bleeding internally and his urine was black, his liver enlarged and kidneys functioned at 50 percent. He had to stay in the hospital for 24 days to recover from his injuries.

Turner said the November incident was the most severe incident of hazing the university has seen.

Students who participate in university activities “are made aware of the anti-hazing policy and agree to not haze or be hazed, but occasionally it happens,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s still a behavior we have to deal with and put a stop to.”

She said the university occasionally receives complaints of hazing and, each is investigated. “If they are determined to be occurring, we take action immediately,” she said.

According to a statement released by McVeigh, his office became involved in an investigation of the incident after the university Police Department and university officials requested their assistance.

“It is neither the intent of this Office or of the University to unnecessarily criminalize any behavior,” he continued, “but hazing, even though a long-standing practice of many student organizations, is illegal and is contrary to Jacksonville State University rules and regulations.” McVeigh added that hazing incidents should be reported directly to the university, where university authorities will investigate all reports of hazing and refer them to his office as appropriate.

He further announced that the District Attorney’s Office will have a zero-tolerance policy on any matters referred and will investigate any such incidents reported.

Attempts to reach officials at Alpha Phi Alpha’s national headquarters were unsuccessful Monday; the Baltimore office was closed due to inclement weather.

Star Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2012