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Newsletter > May 2013 > "Bethune-Cookman and Phi Mu Alpha Sued"
Bethune-Cookman and Phi Mu Alpha Sued
Micah Kamrass, Manley Burke, email@example.com
The mother of Marcus Thomas, a Bethune-Cookman University Student who died in a car crash last year, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school, the school’s Greek Life Coordinator, the national fraternity, and an individual fraternity member. Thomas, a pledge of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, which regards itself as “the world’s oldest and largest secret national fraternal society in music,” was also a member of the Bethune-Cookman marching band, known as “The Pride.” Although the fraternity is not affiliated with the band, marching band hazing has been in the news since the 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, the first incident of a marching band hazing fatality. In 2004, another Florida A&M marching band member, Marcus Parker, was awarded a $1.8 million civil judgment for the kidney failure he developed from the paddling he received as a freshman.
The lawsuit filed by Thomas’s mother alleges that pledges were intentionally sleep-deprived over the course of a three-week period. On the night of Thomas’ death, he and other pledges stayed awake until 4:00 a.m. studying fraternity history “in fear of what would happen if they did not memorize accurately.” At 4:30 a.m., Marcus Allenalso, a member of the fraternity who was also named in the lawsuit, called the pledges and asked them to come to his off-campus apartment for a quiz about the fraternity’s history. On the drive back from the quiz, around 8:00 a.m. that morning, the pledge that was driving the vehicle fell asleep and crashed into a utility pole. The driver and the other passengers in the vehicle besides Mr. Thomas survived the crash.
A police investigation concluded that the driver’s lack of sleep may have contributed to the crash, but also noted that Thomas was not wearing a seat belt. The University’s attorney, Emmet Schwartzman, claims, “the alleged damage set forth in the complaint was caused by or contributed to by the negligence and conduct of the decedent, thus exonerating B-CC wholly or partially from liability.”
The complaint also claims that the national fraternity, Bethune Cookman University, and the then Greek Life Coordinator, Lamar Bryant, “had direct knowledge of previous hazing activities occurring in student groups affiliated with BCU, including the fraternity, and did little or nothing to discipline the activity, thus sending a message to students that the anti-hazing policy was not enforced by the university.”
Duane Warmack, a Bethune Cookman University Vice President, responded to this allegation, reiterating that “Bethune-Cookman University prides ourselves on having a zero tolerance on hazing and put mechanisms in place to ensure that doesn’t happen and if it does we address it to the fullest.” Benjamin Bedard, an attorney for Phi Mu Alpha, echoed this statement. The fraternity “strongly disagrees with the allegations. Based upon the information gathered about this accident, hazing was not involved. It is an unfortunate accident.”
(Editor’s Note: The author is a law clerk at Manley Burke. He is a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi and just completed his second year of law school at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University).