- INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN THE 21ST CENTURY
- CHAPTER MEMBERS FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES
- FREQUENTLY ASKED FOUNDATION FUNDRAISING QUESTIONS
- THERE IS SUCH A THING AS "TOO MUCH FUN"
Newsletter > March 2001 > "CHAPTER MEMBERS FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES"
CHAPTER MEMBERS FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES
Timothy M. Burke, Manley & Burke
The Chapter President and two members of the Pi Kappa Phi Chapter at Chico State University were criminally charged and have now been convicted of “furnishing alcohol to a minor causing death.” The charges, brought following a three-month investigation by the local district attorney, came in the wake of the death of 18-year old Adrian Heideman, after a chapter pledge event. According to the district attorney, during a pledge event, Heideman chugged a bottle of blackberry brandy that the district attorney alleged had been provided by upperclass members of the Chapter. Heideman was found passed out in the basement of the Chapter House. He could not be revived.
The Chapter’s pledges had all been introduced to their big brothers the night Heideman died. The district attorney reported that his investigation found that the overwhelming majority of the other 23 pledges, all but three of whom were minors, had “become drunk or very drunk” that night.
The charges against the Chapter President, the Pledge Ceremony Organizer and the member who apparently purchased the alcohol, while only misdemeanors, could have meant up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each of the defendants. However, in early February, following no contest pleas, each defendant was sentenced to 30 days in jail which they may be able to serve at nights and on weekends.
[The district attorney reported that his investigation found that the overwhelming majority of the other 23 pledges, all but three of whom were minors, had “become drunk or very drunk” that night.]
The National Fraternity has suspended its Chico chapter pending determination of final disciplinary action and, in a pro-active response to the tragedy, is paying for a series of billboards which will both memorialize Heideman and warn against the consequences of binge drinking. The fraternity also intends to circulate a tape of the 911 call in which fraternity members can be heard pleading for help to all of its chapters.
The actions of the California District Attorney contrast with the 1998 effort by a district attorney in Massachusetts to prosecute the Phi Gamma Delta Chapter at MIT for manslaughter following the death of Scott Krueger. There, the prosecution failed because the Chapter simply dissolved and there was no entity left to answer the charges. Individuals who provided alcohol to minors at MIT were not charged. They clearly could have been.
[A chapter which allows alcohol to become a focus of chapter events, such as “wet” pledge parties, places all its officers who had anything to do with the event, particularly those who assisted in supplying alcohol to minors, in jeopardy of criminal prosecution.]
The criminal charges at Chico State should send a warning to fraternities and sororities all across the country. An individual who supplies alcohol to a minor commits a crime. A chapter which allows alcohol to become a focus of chapter events, such as “wet” pledge parties, places all its officers who had anything to do with the event, particularly those who assisted in supplying alcohol to minors, in jeopardy of criminal prosecution.
There remains a potential for civil litigation against the individuals at Chico State, the chapter and the fraternity. The success of such litigation will depend upon proof of liability based on specific facts and the actions and responsibilities of each individual and entity that may be named as a defendant.
Preventing injuries and deaths like that of Adrian Heide man from the misuse of alcohol, ought to be more than enough reason to seriously confront the issue of alcohol abuse. The potential for criminal charges, jail time, and personal civil liability are, in the end, secondary.