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Cattle prods may have been back in style at UT: police charges

AUSTIN — Four former University of Texas fraternity leaders were charged today with cultivating a dangerous culture of hazing that included shocking pledges with cattle prods, beating them and making them drink large amounts of alcohol.

The misdemeanor charges were not directly related to the death of the 18-year-old prospective member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon who fell to his death from a dormitory balcony in 2006, but the charges are from that same year.

According to court documents, pledges were repeatedly shocked with the electric cattle prods, beaten with bamboo sticks and at least once kicked “field goal style” by the fraternity president. They also were made to drink large amounts of alcohol and perform manual labor, according to affidavits filed by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla’s office.

“We are raising the ante against hazing, we are raising the ante against those providing alcohol to people who are underage, and we will now prosecute for failure to report hazing,” Escamilla told the Austin American-Statesman in its online edition today.

The fraternity recently struck an agreement with UT that allows it to continue operating in exchange for changes to the process of initiating new members and conducting social activities.

Tyler Cross, a freshman from Georgia, was found dead Nov. 17, 2006, on the front sidewalk of an off-campus dorm after he had fallen from a fifth-floor balcony. An autopsy report said Cross had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas.

Then-fraternity president Chase Bolding, Will Evans and Austin Sherrill were each charged with hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors. Hazing is punishable by a year in jail and furnishing alcohol to minors is punishable by up to six months in jail. Former fraternity vice president Jimmy Berry was charged with failure to report hazing, punishable by up to six months in jail.

Efforts by the Associated Press to reach the four for comment were unsuccessful today, as no telephone listings could be found for them.

According to the affidavits, the hazing included an incident in which Sherrill allegedly touched a hot iron to the face of two pledges, causing minor injuries. The pledges were told to skip classes until their burns healed, the affidavit said.

Last year, three officers of UT’s Lambda Phi Epsilon received probation after a criminal investigation into the death of Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath, a freshman honors student from Houston who was found dead after an off-campus fraternity party Dec. 9, 2005.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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