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WUPD connects assault with possible hazing

News Staff

A Washington University Police Department investigation found that a student assault on Oct. 30 was connected with a prior incident of possible hazing by members of an on-campus fraternity.

WUPD issued a report last week saying that a student assaulted two others while at a Halloween party in the Rutledge residence hall on the South 40. The assault was reported to the police on Nov. 2.

A Student Life investigation found that sophomore Eric Potter struck sophomore Michael Biehl as well as another girl at a Halloween party on Oct. 30 in Rutledge.

A police investigation into the assaults found that the conflict started earlier that week during an incident that involved fraternity members and that was possibly hazing.

“It appeared as a result of our investigation there were some practices that some in the investigation indicated were part of sort of historical acts by members of the fraternity,” WUPD Chief of Police Don Strom said. Strom did not discuss which students were involved with the assault or the incident leading up to the assault, what fraternity was found to be connected with the incident, or what the incident was.

Potter is a brother in the Sigma Nu fraternity, and Biehl was at the time in the process of pledging membership to Sigma Nu.

Earlier that week, on Oct. 28, Potter and another Sigma Nu brother mock kidnapped Biehl’s girlfriend, sophomore Michelle Chen, shortly before 9 p.m. at Simon Hall, according to Chen. The two bound her ankles and covered her mouth with duct tape, according to Chen. Chen described the mock kidnapping as a game, and said that she had agreed to participate in it beforehand. Potter and the other student took a photograph of Chen that they intended to send to Biehl.

The two then removed the duct tape from Chen’s mouth and suggested to her that they carry her to the Student Union Senate meeting with her feet still bound. Chen, an SU senator, said she initially laughed at the suggestion, although she was not OK with it. Chen said she did not want to be put into that situation, which she did not think was appropriate. She told the two that she did not want to be dropped off at the meeting while she was being carried to it.

Potter could not be reached for comment.

The two then dropped her off at the meeting, which was in progress, in Simon 113. Chen said that she thought it was possible that there was a miscommunication in the situation.

As she was entering the Senate meeting with her feet bound, Chen fell and was assisted by Senators Robyn Michaelson and Mike Post. Chen then re-entered the room and attended the meeting.

Chen said she considers what happened to have been a prank that went too far.

Sigma Nu President David Ingber said that Sigma Nu investigated the matter internally and found that the students involved with the assault at the Halloween party had relations with Sigma Nu but the assault was an isolated incident that was not associated with the fraternity.

“They [Biehl and Potter] were freshman roommates,” Ingber said. “Whatever happened between them is much bigger and larger than anything that happened at Sig Nu. There is a clear distinction between the events that occurred and Sigma Nu in the fact that they are separate entities and separate things.”

Chen said she does not feel what happened reflects on Sigma Nu as a whole, and she does not blame the fraternity for what happened.

Strom said that because the incident leading up to the assault was possibly hazing, the case will be reviewed per standard protocol by the county’s prosecuting attorney office in January.

“I think most people who’ve looked at it have said, ‘It’s kind of a close call,’ and I think that’s what people really want to delve into a little further with it,” Strom said.

Ingber noted that Sigma Nu was founded on a principle of no hazing.

“That statement of no hazing is something that we as a house and organization take unbelievably seriously,” Ingber said.

Ingber said he was not aware of any incidents involving mock kidnapping occurring in the past.

“This is nothing I have ever heard of in the past, and nothing that we have done, or ever done to my knowledge,” Ingber said.

Because the students who were assaulted at the party are not requesting prosecution, WUPD has referred further handling of the case to the judicial administrator.

Senior Kevin Smith, president of the Interfraternity Council, said that the Greek Life Standards Board is not investigating allegations of hazing by Sigma Nu.

Director of Greek Life Michael Hayes could not be reached for comment and left town to go on vacation on Thursday, but a representative from the Greek Life Office said that the case had been discussed.

Biehl recently stopped pledging Sigma Nu. Biehl said this was not related to the assault or the incident leading up to it, and he made the decision that Greek life was not for him independently of what happened.

While the SU meeting was momentarily stopped by Chen’s unusual entrance, the meeting proceeded as normal.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Speaker of the Senate Chase Sackett said. “It was confusing.”

“It seemed like the general consensus was it would be taken care of, and she came back in a few moments anyway,” freshman Senator Mamatha Challa said.

The University hazing policy states, “Any activity organized by a student organization, or members of a student organization, which involves a member in practices which are injurious, or potentially injurious to an individual’s physical, emotional, or psychological well being (as determined at the sole discretion of the University) shall be immediate cause for disciplinary action.”

Dan Woznica, Michelle Merlin and Perry Stein contributed reporting

  • S

    “Clear hazing incident?” Point to me in this article what adds up to a “clear hazing incident.” What is clear are the statements from every party even potentially involved, minus WUPD, indicating that it has nothing to do with any organization in Greek life.

    I don’t find this article confusing at all, despite its attempts to make the reader gloss over what is being said with vague statements and irrelevant passages in an attempt to make someone, anyone, believe that this was hazing.

    This was, instead, garbage and a waste of my time.

  • hmmmmm

    “A Student Life investigation found that…”
    doesn’t really sound like all of this was public knowledge and seems that studlife did a bit of dirt digging on their own.

    Regardless, I want to agree with most people by saying that publishing their names and publicly humiliating all involved is wrong, but on the other hand I want to agree with Jerry. I’m torn.

    This does read like a tabloid though, I would expect washu to have it’s own gossip publication by now (ever since Juicycampus shut down), but I guess studlife is taking that matter into their own hands.

  • JRD

    I think the confusion with the article stems from the fact that this was not truly a hazing incident which the headline states. When the facts are clearly explained it appears to have been an incident between Potter and Biehl, while Michelle was an agreeing party. Although Michelle being tied up was egregious on the part of Potter and one of his brothers, this as well as the assault are not something that needs to be clearly associated with Sigma Nu. Rather it seemed to be an ill thought out prank of sorts.

  • Reasonable?

    While I disagree with the use of students’ names and I have often found Student Life’s topic choices to be a bit sensational, I agree with everything Jerry points out.

    I also think those who are stating that the article is confusing are being disingenuous. What, specifically, is confusing to you? And if you can’t explain your confusion clearly, should you really be attending WU?

  • Kate

    Jerry, you make it sound like people should actually respect their SU senators…funny, that doesn’t really happen here.

    Even if the names were available in “public record” which it appears they were not actually to the extent that StudLife took it, it’s irresponsible to combine names with what appears to be an inaccurate or irresponsible report of the events.

  • student

    Apparently studlife draws its reporters from JuicyCampus. Great job guys.

  • Facts

    From the police blotter:
    ASSAULT Oct. 30 2009-Friday at 23:30
    Location : RUTLEDGE DORM 090598
    Summary: One student assaulted two others while at a Halloween party and investigation into this incident found it had started earlier in the week during a Fraternity ritual Disposition: Cleared by referral to JA.

  • Jerry

    Sounds like some sour grapes from the commenters above.

    For various reasons, this article is an appropriate topic to report on:

    1. There was an assault which, along with the names of those involved, was public record as part of a WUPD investigation;

    2. There was a clear hazing incident involved, which, while perhaps not newsworthy on its own, is a bit more intriguing when it happens at a fraternity founded on the very premise of non-hazing, and

    3. most importantly, involved the kidnapping and public humiliation of a SU senator. Imagine if a US Senator were kidnapped and thrown onto the floor of the Senate chamber – I think that would be big news.

    This article, while a bit dry, was fairly and accurately reported, and appears to have actually contacted those involved, rather than just cribbed from a WUPD police blotter. For that alone, StudLife surpasses the journalistic standards of most professional media organizations.

  • AF

    In my opinion Stud Life, with this article, turned itself into a tabloid. There was no reason to print this article and embarrass students who are probably working to put this behind them.

    Additionally, I would suggest to student life that in a case like this, where no one has been charged with anything, they take into consideration the various cache pages that will hold this article forever. This article will become part of google’s catalog and become searchable by future employers and others. It is irresponsible to report events like this that have 1) been dropped by all authorities, 2) are damaging to the character of those named and 3) personal matters between, of all people, former roommates.

  • bght

    this is terribly written. i had to read some phrases three or four times before i understood what i should be confused about.

  • acg

    Once again, I like how studlife fails at any sort of substantive reporting while continuing to be as classless as possible. It’s a great idea to use the names of the victims of a crime. If this happened to me I would for sure want the whole school knowing about my private matters that I couldn’t control. Class act.

  • hba

    This article is missing a lot of information. They claim it was hazing but I see nothing mentioned about why or how. To make a claim like that without proof is defamation. Student life should try to get the whole story before rushing something to print. Possibly waiting for Mike Hayes to get back would have helped. Either way, this is irresponsible reporting, (and a very messy article to read.)

    This seems like a conflict between two students, which should not be reported by stud life anyways. Wait until everything comes out next time before over blowing a small incident.

  • mdh

    What a poorly written article — substance and grammar. Perhaps this is due to the fact that THREE writers had a part of this.

    As an alum who was once a part of Greek Life (not Sigma Nu), I find it absurd that this newspaper still pounces on any stories associated with Greek Life in order to cast fraternities and sororities in a negative light whenever possible. It is clear that Student Life values getting the “scoop” on a story to be more important than producing thoughtful news stories.

    Wash U students & staff should demand a better newspaper.

  • M.

    It’s completely unethical to use their names especially since the information is privileged I’m sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people involved had asked for their names to be not mentioned and SL didn’t care.

    Dione you’re completely right, it is near impossible to defend the credibility of the paper. I truly believe SL needs to at the very least apologize for being so incredibly assinine.

  • Dione Drew

    Is it ethical to use student’s names in this article? I’m not sure if the information is “public” through the police, but printing it in the student newspaper is a “different story,” if you will. This could very possibly mar the reputations of the involved students, especially when the article clearly says the boys lived together and have a much longer, more complex relationship than that of fraternity member and wanna-be fraternity member.

    The writers on the SL staff this year make it incredibly hard to defend the paper’s credibility as a whole–let’s do what is right as students and peers, people. Respect, anyone?

  • J.

    This is the clearest reason why Student Life is a useless paper. This is not a matter that should be brought up in this type of forum and there is no reason Student Life should have felt it was appropriate to use names of students as well as the Greek organization that was involved. I in no way condone what happened but bringing up an incident that should be handled internally with the judicial board is disgusting on Student Life’s part.