A former University of Arizona student is suing the Arizona Board of Regents and Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity in connection with a hazing incident last year that left the young man seriously injured.
The UA removed its chapter of Alpha Sigma Phi in April 2017 after an investigation by the school found that its members engaged in hazing, assault and provided alcohol to minors, according to a letter from the Dean of Students Office.
During a fraternity event on the night of March 22 and the morning of March 23, 2017, Alpha Sigma Phi members were blindfolded, physically assaulted and forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, the letter says.
At least one student was arrested at the time, and in January 2018, two former members of the fraternity were indicted on felony assault charges in connection with hazing, court records show.
Cody William Ward is facing a charge of aggravated assault with serious injury in connection with the March 22 incident, and Brandon Sellers is facing a charge of aggravated assault causing temporary or substantial disfigurement, stemming from incidents that took place from Jan. 15 through Feb. 7, 2017. The case is ongoing, with status conferences scheduled in August, according to Pima County Superior Court records.
The lawsuit, filed by former Alpha Sigma Phi pledge Brett Barr, says the UA, the Arizona Board of Regents and Alpha Sigma Phi acted negligently. The lawsuit also accuses the fraternity of negligent supervision, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ward and Sellens are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Barr was a UA freshman and Alpha Sigma Phi pledge at the time of the incident and did not return to school afterward because he feared for his safety, according to the lawsuit.
After the incident, Barr required emergency medical attention and was found to have head trauma, a lacerated spleen, sepsis, cigarette burns on his arms, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, the lawsuit says.
Barr also suffered from severe emotional distress, mental anguish, anxiety, depression and a fear of retaliation by other fraternity members, the lawsuit says.
Gordy Heminger, president, and CEO of Alpha Sigma Phi told the Star that Ward was permanently expelled. Heminger also said the fraternity is pursuing damages against Ward for his actions that led to the closure of the chapter.
“We hope the court system, criminal and civil, will hold this individual fully responsible for his actions, and Alpha Sigma Phi pledges its full support to that effort,” Heminger said.
Alpha Sigma Phi’s national organization has made it clear that members who haze will be removed from the fraternity and the organization will do whatever it can to ensure they are held accountable through the university conduct process and the court system, Heminger said.
The UA has been removed as a defendant in the case since the Arizona Board of Regents is the governing body that represents the school.
“The university took immediate and decisive action upon notification of the injury,” UA’s Dean of Students Kendal Washington White told the Star in an email. “That action included suspending all chapter activities pending the outcome of our investigation.”
Once the UA confirmed that Alpha Sigma Phi had endangered members, including assaulting a pledge, the school withdrew the group’s campus recognition — the most serious sanction the UA can issue against a student organization, White said.
The Board of Regents has denied the allegations, saying Barr’s injuries were “caused by his own contributory negligence and/or assumption of the risk.”
Barr’s attorney, Phoenix lawyer William Fischbach, told the Star he was unable to comment on the pending case, but said the original claim filed with the state asked for $1.2 million in damages.
To sue a public body, a person must first file a claim, allowing the organization 60 days to settle before it can be filed in court.