Fraternity members in hazing must perform volunteer service

June 29, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

UPPER MARLBORO -- Twenty-three members of a University of Maryland fraternity charged with beating new members avoided trial yesterday, with most of them agreeing to do community service.

As part of the plea bargain, the 23 members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity chapter at College Park must apologize to the would-be member who reported the beatings and pay his medical bills.

Hazing charges against 16 fraternity members were placed on an inactive docket while each of them performs community service.

Ten of those considered most culpable will be required to perform 150 hours of service while six others will do 100 hours.

Charges against seven members were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

The men were charged in May 1993 with beating new members, or "pledges," in initiation rituals, sometimes using whips, brushes, belts and wooden paddles. Six pledges suffered serious injuries -- ranging from a ruptured spleen to a fractured ankle, according to police charging documents.

In accepting the plea bargain, which was worked out over several hours yesterday afternoon, Prince George's County District Judge Thurman H. Rhodes lectured the defendants against resorting to violence.

"The test of the mettle of a man is not what he can endure physically," Judge Rhodes said. "It is what he can do for others, not to others, that makes him a man."

An Omega Psi Phi pledge, Joseph Snell, initially reported the hazing to campus authorities and appeared in court yesterday ready to testify against members of the fraternity he once wanted to join.

Mr. Snell, 23, of Silver Spring said he was satisfied with the plea agreement, which he said included what he wanted most -- an apology.

"We wanted them to know that what they did was wrong," Mr. Snell said. "We wanted a reckoning of sorts, but not something that would last the rest of their lives like a criminal conviction."

The fraternity brothers are also required to pay Mr. Snell's medical bills and to make him an open-ended offer to join, something he said he wasn't likely to do for many years.

Mr. Snell, a criminology major who has one more year of studies at College Park, said he knew from the beginning that pledging Omega Psi Phi would be a grueling experience.

"I never thought people would have to eat vomit, or that guys would get concussions, broken ribs," he said. "That's something totally different.

"As the pledge process went on, it got harder and harder," he said. "The hazing got more severe. I figured if somebody died, I couldn't live with that."

Mr. Snell said most of the fraternity members were "good kids" who were simply carrying on fraternity tradition with the beatings.

"Someone had done it to them, so they had to do it to somebody else," Mr. Snell said, comparing the phenomenon to an abused child who grows up to abuse his children.

The university, in agreement with the national Omega Psi Phi organization, suspended the fraternity from campus last year for five years.

The university recently punished four of the fraternity brothers who were still enrolled. The penalties were not made public.

Assistant State's Attorney Jamilah Adams said the outcome of the case sends a message that fraternity hazing will not be tolerated.

"I think they've learned a lesson," Ms. Adams said. "If you do it and we investigate it, there is a price to pay. That's the message."

Ms. Adams said that the other pledges who were allegedly beaten refused to testify against their fraternity brothers. "The code of silence is so strong in these organizations. Mr. Snell should be commended for coming forward," she said.

She said she hopes the fraternity members can do community service that will alert the public to the dangers of hazing.

William H. Murphy Jr., the attorney for 22 of the 23 defendants, praised what he called a "wonderful resolution.

"Good people can now go on their way to do even better things," Mr. Murphy said. "At worst, this was a dispute between good people."

Mr. Murphy and Baltimore attorney John Clark, who represented one of the defendants, are members of Omega Psi Phi. The lawyers said they charged nothing for their legal services.

University police initially filed charges against 24 fraternity members. The case against one was dropped last year.

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