UNT Fraternity Found Guilty Of Hazing Escaped Suspension, Despite Previous Warning

"Probation is not a punishment."

The University of North Texas chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon was found guilty of hazing, but escaped a stipulation that should've called for their suspension at the time. 

SigEp, as it's known, was already on probation in the fall 2013 semester when it was accused of hazing, according to records recently obtained by The Huffington Post.

The fraternity was placed on probation from Oct. 29, 2012, until Oct. 29, 2013, for the "distribution of alcohol in a prohibited manner," with a stipulation that any further violation of the student code of conduct would result in the fraternity's suspension.

The investigation into the incident included a report of a physical assault, but UNT concluded it was an altercation involving two individuals, and police were unable to determine who started the fight.

In September 2013, SigEp was accused of hazing by then-pledge Derek Elrod, who is currently a UNT senior. Elrod reported the fraternity to police and university officials, and the alleged hazing was recently detailed in a July ThinkProgress piece.

SigEp's national office pushed back at the article in a statement, conceding that the chapter at the Denton, Texas, campus violated hazing policies, but alleging that Elrod harassed members after the incident, a charge that he denies. 

The alleged hazing incident occurred on Sept. 7, 2013, during bid day. Elrod said he was forced to do pushups and drink vodka while being physically intimidated and yelled at "intensely" by fraternity members.                              

The allegations contained in Elrod's police complaint did not meet the criminal element for hazing, so it was investigated through the dean of students' office, UNT told HuffPost. After an investigation, documents show, UNT on Oct. 18, 2013, found SigEp in violation of the university's policy regarding "safety and welfare" of the campus community, and to have broken unspecified local, state and/or federal laws.

However, despite already being on probation with a warning further violations would result in a suspension, the school decided to keep the fraternity on campus. Instead, it simply extended the fraternity's probation for two years. 

Excerpt from the sanctioning letter given to the UNT chapter of SigEp in October 2012:

 Excerpts from a letter dated Oct. 18, 2013, from UNT to the local SigEp chapter: 

Elrod said pledges were allegedly forced do "founders' pushups" for close to a half-hour while shouting off, "Sir, yes sir," on every down and every up, according to handwritten notes from a UNT dean's interview with Elrod. After an unspecified period of time, Elrod told the university, the pledges were told to stand and drink from a bottle of vodka, and then to resume pushups. Elrod had his feet kicked out from under him at one point, he said, knocking him onto the ground.

"I was being yelled at so intensely and then the exits were blocked," Elrod told HuffPost, insisting he did not feel he had a choice to stop or leave. He feared being beaten up if he did try to leave, Elrod told UNT officials.

One brother shouted, "You are to do everything I say regardless of what it is," and larger guys had physically blocked the exits with their bodies, Elrod claimed. Eventually he decided he had enough, Elrod said, and went to leave the room. No brother physically touched him as he tried to go, he told UNT, but they did ask him to stay. 

Once Elrod left the house, he called police. When police arrived, they interviewed the chapter's then-president, Richard Randall, who told the officer, "We just kind of didn't want him here anymore," referring to Elrod, "because we thought he was on the homosexual side." Randall was forced to step down after this, and has since said he's embarrassed of his statements to the police. 

 The university defended its decision not to suspend the chapter following Elrod's allegations. 

"The incident in 2013 was different in nature from the 2012 incident -- distribution of alcohol in a prohibited manner versus hazing," UNT spokesperson Margarita Venegas told HuffPost. "UNT assigns sanctions based on prior history, severity of offense and university guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness. Because these two incidents were different in nature and the fraternity was near the end of its current probationary period, UNT determined an extension for two years of probation was appropriate."

But Elrod remains frustrated, feeling that the fraternity got let off easy. 

"Probation is not a punishment -- that's just a warning, ya know," Elrod said.