FSU to use some grand jury ideas after frat pledge death
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State University officials said on Wednesday they will incorporate some of the grand jury’s suggestions into reforming Greek life following the death of a fraternity pledge.
Those reforms might also extend to the university’s Code of Conduct for its students.
President John Thrasher and Vice President of Student Affairs Amy Hecht said they were frustrated with the lack of cooperation from those who were at the party attended by Andrew Coffey and by Phi Kappa Pi fraternity members and pledges.
Coffey, 20, who was a junior and a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, died of alcohol poisoning on Nov. 3 after he was found unresponsive after a party the night before. The state medical examiner said that Coffey had a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy.
The Leon County grand jury said in its report Tuesday that it saw enough evidence for criminal charges in Coffey’s death but that the investigation is incomplete. It left the decision about charges up to the state attorney’s office or a future grand jury.
One of the recommendations the grand jury made was to amend the Student Code of Conduct to require that students cooperate during an investigation.
Hecht said on Wednesday that they are still combing through the report as they try to match the grand jury’s suggestions against what they have received from students.
“We are looking at that recommendation but we also have to take a look at due process,” Hect said. “As we seek to create a new normal we have to make sure we hold people to more accountability. I think we are headed in the right direction but there’s still a lot to study.”
Three days after Coffey’s death, Florida State suspended its fraternities and sororities with no timetable on when they would be reinstated.
Lack of cooperation by fraternity members was cited as a reason for convening the grand jury. Tallahassee Police Investigator Dan Copelin said that 19 of 41 pledges, 22 of 38 fraternity brothers and seven of nine members of the fraternity’s executive council refused to be interviewed.
Four fraternity members and 38 pledges appeared before the grand jury, but the 17 members of the jury said they found elements of obstructionism surrounding the case. It also took to task the lack of substance in testimony, their demeanor and attitude.
“The fraternity members were very careful about how they characterized their behavior on the night in question,” the grand jury said in its report. “Many of the witnesses’ testimony appeared rehearsed as if they were speaking off a ‘script.’ They presented many of the same answers as each other and volunteered much self-serving information without being asked.”
The grand jury has also recommended refresher training courses on hazing and binge drinking and a “Community Scorecard” to measure the performance of fraternities, including grade point averages, service hours, and on- or off-campus incidents.
“Working together with our students and other stakeholders, we have made much progress toward our goals during the past six weeks. However, the grand jury report confirms we still have much work to do,” Thrasher said a statement Tuesday night.
The grand jury did find that although Coffey’s alcohol consumption was not physically forced, an environment of hazing existed that culminated in his death. The fraternity’s “Big Brother Night” party, which was held at an off-campus home, encouraged binge drinking.
The party introduced pledges to their big brothers and included drinking large amounts of liquor straight from the bottle. The presentment said Coffey consumed a bottle of bourbon he was given. He passed out and was described as “snoring loudly” on a couch in the living room while others played pool.
A fellow pledge tried to awaken Coffey the next morning and found he didn’t have a pulse. Phone records show the pledge called and texted five fraternity members before calling 911.
“Even as we are heartbroken, we are also troubled. Troubled that our son died alone in a room full of people,” Sandy Coffey said in a statement that was part of the report. “Accountability is a tough word, but perhaps it is time for accountability.”