BY JAMES HARPER
Bethune-Cookman University has ordered Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America to suspend all activities on and off campus, including meetings, practices, and involvement in events and programs.
Pi Gamma, the local chapter of the music fraternity, is named in a lawsuit connected to the death of B-CU student and marching band member Marcus Thomas.
The 19-year-old died in a car accident on Feb. 10, 2012. According to witness accounts given to police, Thomas and several other students had just left a fraternity leader’s off-campus apartment.
Mom alleges hazing
On behalf of her son, Marcus Thomas, Michelle Thomas also is suing Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, B-CU employee Lamar D. Bryant, and Marcus Allen, a B-CU student and “big brother’’ to the pledges. Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America is a fraternity for music students.
Michelle Thomas’ complaint alleges that hazing activities were conducted both on and off campus.
Darryl Lewis, who is with the law firm of Searcy, Denny, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley out of Miami, is representing Mrs. Thomas.
Upon being contacted by the Daytona Times this week about the action of the school against the fraternity, Lewis said B-CU “is merely acting to protect its reputation and money.”
Lawyer: B-CU could do more
“The school should have and could have easily protected its students and the community by fixing the school’s well-known long-existing culture of severe hazing. But, they did nothing to stop it,” Lewis said.
“Severe hazing endangers not just students but the entire community. In this case, for example, the morning that Marcus Thomas was needlessly killed because serious hazing had made him and others so sleep deprived that the driver lost control of his car, children and anyone else could have been standing there waiting for a bus, injuring or killing anyone who happened to be there,” Lewis continued.
Lewis added that the school should be applauded for taking the action against the fraternity but added: “At this point the school should stop severe hazing school-wide and meet their full responsibility to Marcus’s family.”
B-CU’s “cease and desist” letter to Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America also requires members to refrain from wearing clothing bearing the name of the organization, or any of its emblems, stated a press release.
Violation of the policy could lead to removal of recognition of the organization from B-CU.
The lawsuit filed by Lewis on behalf of Mrs. Thomas states “some of the pledging activities involved pledges dressing in all black where they would be physically assaulted and battered.
During the pledging process, pledges would be forced to be on a “Pledge diet,” where they were not allowed to eat.
“Also pledges were required to stay up all night and into the early morning hours, memorizing and reciting fraternity history and facts, clean fraternity members houses and run errands for the members.”
Hearing in July
The last hearing on the case took place July 1. In addition to Lewis, also present representing the estate of Marcus Thomas were local attorneys William Chanfrau Sr. And Kelly Chanfrau.
The lawyer representing Bethune-Cookman at the hearing was Emmet J. Schwartzman.
Representing Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity at the hearing was Jeffrey Hurcomb. Jeremy Palma represented Allen.
The fraternity filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing, among other things, that the national fraternity could not be held responsible for the actions of members in the local chapter of the fraternity.
Lewis argued successfully to Judge Terrence Perkins that the national fraternity could be held liable for the acts of the members in its local chapter.
About the lawsuit
Mrs. Thomas’ lawsuit, which was filed last year, states that as a B-CU student and pledge of a fraternity, her son was protected by Florida Statue 1006.63 and protected by the B-CU Greek Life Policy on Hazing and its Statement on Hazing and Student Code.
“Both recognize the inherent dangers of hazing, defined as any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student as part of an organization’s initiation or affiliation process and attempt to protect students from those dangers,’’ the suit states.
Bryant, a B-CU employee, is being sued because he was the assistant dean of students and director of Student Involvement and Coordinator of Greek Life at the university.
B-CU, Phi Mu and Bryant are being charged with negligence. The fraternity and Marcus Allen also are being sued for breach of fiduciary duty. In addition, the fraternity is being accused of default on obligations.
The mother is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.