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

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.