Adam Peavy, an attorney representing a university student, is planning to file a civil lawsuit in connection to an alleged Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity hazing incident that occurred last fall.
James Bowes Higgins was charged with aggravated assault by the University Police Department on Nov. 17 in connection with the incident. During the incident, bleach or cleaning fluid was allegedly sprayed onto blindfolded pledge members who were squatting against a wall, according to the Associated Press.
Higgins could not be reached for comment and a Twitter account associated with his name was deactivated on April 7.
According to Peavy, members of the fraternity blindfolded his client and sprayed chemical cleaner into his mouth after asking him if he wanted water. Peavy said his client Jackson, whose last name has not been released, is still suffering from problems with his esophagus six months after the incident.
“No parents send their kid to college thinking they’re going to get blindfolded and poisoned … It’s unconscionable,” Peavy said.
Peavy has not determined who will be named as defendants in the lawsuit, but he said the university chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha, the national organization and the student who allegedly sprayed the bleach in Jackson’s mouth are possible defendants.
Peavy also noted the March 6 death of Bowling Green University sophomore Stone Foltz who died after a Pi Kappa Alpha hazing event and suggested that the fraternity has a national problem with hazing.
“It’s just unacceptable,” he said.
Peavy said ingestion of Clorox bleach leads to chemical burns in the stomach and the esophagus.
“Luckily, the esophagus can heal over time sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Peavy said. “In Jackson’s case, it’s been months and months, and (his weight) keeps going down.”
Peavy described Jackson as “larger than life” before the incident occurred, standing at over six-foot and 250 pounds. Now, Peavy said he’s lost 50 pounds and vomits much of the food he eats.
“(Jackson’s) mom has explained to me something about cutting out portions of the esophagus or having to redirect the esophagus to the intestines,” Peavy said. “But you know, he eats, (and) he vomits.”
He said Jackson’s mother also says the incident has had a psychological impact and has left him with depression.
“You can ask his mom. He’s a glorified foodie,” Peavy said. “He loved pizza night with the family, and he loved to eat, and he just can’t do it.”
According to Peavy, Jackson has not dropped his membership with Pi Kappa Alpha despite the alleged hazing incident, though he anticipates that he may do so soon.
Charlotte Fant Pegues, interim chancellor for student affairs, said in a statement that the university has “supported” the victim and his family in various capacities over the past few months and will continue to offer support.
However, Peavy said only Chancellor Glenn Boyce reached out to Jackson phone call recently, but Jackson did not respond to the chancellor’s messages. They hope to set up a meeting soon with the university to talk about the incident, and Peavy said acknowledgement was what the family has wanted from the beginning.
“I do believe one of the individuals who was responsible for poisoning Jackson has been suspended or expelled. That’s a good start,” Peavy said.
The Daily Mississippian attempted to speak with Arthur Doctor, director of fraternity and sorority life, for this story, but he could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. After two phone calls to Doctor’s office, a reporter went to his office in person where Doctor said The Daily Mississippian could email questions to be answered with university communications.
After multiple phone calls to university communications officials, a reporter went to the university communications office to request a conversation with Doctor given the seriousness of the allegations in the story. The reporter was told that Jim Zook, chief marketing and communications officer, was “on the phone” and would be unavailable for an unspecified amount of time.
When The Daily Mississippian emailed questions to Doctor, university communications responded with a statement from Fant Pegues that was already given to the Associated Press and said it would be the university’s only comment at this time.
Fant Pegues said she was outraged by the allegations. She said the university learned of the “severity of the incident” last fall and referred to the University Police Department.
According to Fant Pegues, the university placed Pi Kappa Alpha on interim suspension and is working with their national organization to hold students responsible and accountable, which has resulted in the suspension of one student from the university and other sanctions against the chapter. Those sanctions were not specified in the statement, but a university communications official sent a followup email after publication with a list of the sanctions.
“Hazing and other behavior that places the health and safety of our students at risk will not be tolerated,” she said. “We will continue to take these matters seriously and address any violations within our community.”