Significant and willing involvement in the November death of a pledge by members of the Sigma Nu fraternity and the Chi Omega sorority at Utah State University has prompted the closing of both chapters there.
Parent organizations of both student groups have found sufficient cause to eliminate each from any participation, ordering the 34 students currently living in the two privately owned homes to move out as soon as possible.
"We regret the loss of the Epsilon Upsilon Chapter," Sigma Nu Executive Director Brad Beacham said, adding that the decision to revoke the chapter's charter was made by the fraternity's High Council following its recent independent investigation involving the death of fraternity pledge and Salt Lake resident Michael Starks.
The USU chapter was founded in 1938, and until the Nov. 21 incident in which 18-year-old Starks was found dead by cause of alcohol poisoning, the national headquarters has been relatively uninvolved in the normal activity at the fraternity. Throughout the process of investigating the fraternity's relationship to Starks' death, however, officials have been in and out of the chapter's house north of campus. They also attended the funeral and have kept in contact with family members.
"The fraternity continues to extend its deepest sympathies to Michael Starks' family. We will keep Michael's family in our prayers," Beacham said.
In addition to the chapter revocation of Sigma Nu, Chi Omega's Alpha Gamma chapter has also been shut down at USU.
Both chapters endured earlier suspension from campus activity while investigations ensued, resulting in various criminal charges filed against 12 USU students who are also fraternity/sorority members.
USU officials have started disciplinary hearings for involved students, which includes more than the 12 charged, and have announced a discontinuance of association with the two chapters. According to a statement posted on the school's Web site, "the university's internal evaluation found that both fraternal chapters had willfully engaged in activities that were clearly gross violations of the Code of Policies and Procedures for Students at Utah State University."
Prosecutors have charged Sigma Nu and Chi Omega with hazing, a third-degree felony, while its members received misdemeanor charges including providing alcohol to a minor, hazing and obstructing justice.
On the evening of Nov. 20, Starks was allegedly participating in an initiation ceremony, as stated in court documents, and was "kidnapped" by members of the Chi Omega sorority and led to drink large amounts of alcohol, specifically vodka, which put his blood-alcohol level well above the legal limit. In the process, Starks and another pledge were asked to strip down to their underwear and paint their bodies with school colors, prosecutors say. Starks was later found unconscious in the Sigma Nu house and pronounced dead the following morning.
As of Tuesday, six of the 12 students facing criminal charges have pleaded not guilty, according to court records. The remaining students have not entered a plea and are scheduled to be arraigned throughout February and March.
The commander of the USU chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity, Cody Wayne Littlewood, 20, pleaded not guilty to hazing charges earlier this month and his attorney has already filed a motion to dismiss.
"Based on what we know from the information, Cody did nothing wrong and elements of a crime do not exist," Littlewood's attorney, Clayton Simms, said. "We believe the charges should be dismissed because he did nothing in this incident that constitutes hazing."
Simms says Littlewood was not involved in providing alcohol to Starks on the night of his death and was not even present when it was going on. Simms also says his client told people that there should be no alcohol consumed by the pledges that week.
"Cody took steps to prevent this and when Michael showed up intoxicated he took steps to take care of him by calling poison control and monitoring him," Simms said.
Utah State spokesman John DeVilbiss said it's possible the two organizations could be reinstated in the future.
Contributing: Ethan Thomas