A Florida State University student was hit in the face and knocked out cold during a controversial hazing practice known as “Scumbag of the Week” in April.
Now, South Florida attorneys litigating a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Leon Circuit Court are seeking to hold the fraternity and a member liable for the brain damage the young man sustained.
According to David W. Bianchi and Michael Levine, attorneys with Miami-based firm Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and Miami Beach resident Oliver S. Walker were negligent in preventing the brain injury suffered by 20-year-old Nicholas Mauricio. Mauricio allegedly sustained his injury during the institutionalized “Scumbag of the Week” ritual, which took place at the fraternity’s off-campus housing April 9.
The complaint describes “Scumbag of the Week” as a “long-standing fraternity tradition” in which a fraternity brother is “singled out for being hit in the face in front of the entire group.”
Walker allegedly hit so hard, Mauricio fell to the floor, was rendered unconscious and ended up with a brain injury.
The complaint also names as defendants several other individuals affiliated with Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Phi Tau arm, including chapter president Ira D. Sigman and assigned scribe Jason A. Peck.
FSU Director of University News & Digital Communications Dennis Schnittker referred the Daily Business Review to a prior statement by Amy Hecht, the school’s vice president for student affairs.
“Florida State University is in the process of reviewing the police report. Allegations of this nature can lead to charges under the Student Conduct Code, the Student Organization Conduct Code, or both,” Hecht’s statement reads. “Alpha Epsilon Pi remains under interim disciplinary action and cannot operate as an organization.”
Jonathan M. Pierce, the fraternity’s media spokesman and past international president, told the Daily Business Review, ”Alpha Epsilon Pi International has not received the lawsuit at this time and feel it would be inappropriate to provide further comment until we have the opportunity to see and review it.”
Pierce did not acknowledge the copy of the complaint that had been attached with the request for comment, and did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.
Read the complaint filed by David Bianchi against Alpha Epsilon Pi:
What’s clear is that the events from that frat house will have far-reaching consequences.
“[Mauricio] was bleeding from his mouth due to a cracked tooth, developed a golf ball-sized lump on the back of his head and was subsequently diagnosed with a fractured skull, a traumatic hemorrhage of the cerebrum, a traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage and a traumatic subdural hemorrhage,” the complaint reads. “Upon arrival at the hospital those who brought him in lied to the healthcare providers, telling them that Mauricio had fallen down stairs while playing basketball outside on the fraternity’s deck.”
Mauricio was admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s neuro-intensive care unit and remained there for five days. He now suffers from encephalomalacia — the softening or death of brain tissue.
“The damage done to his right frontal lobe affects his behavior, mood, attitude and cognitive function,” the filing says.
Bianchi described the hazing ritual as an “insane tradition,” and said the fraternity was aware of the “Scumbag of the Week” practice across multiple chapters. What’s more: He said Alpha Epsilon Pi’s education leadership consultant, Charles Cohen, was allegedly present for a previous instance of the ritual in Tallahassee. The complaint quotes a member of the fraternity saying that Cohen purportedly reacted by “laughing his head off.”
“These are not one-off instances,” plaintiffs counsel Levine said. “It’s a matter of time until the worst happens.”
Bianchi has a long history of hazing-related litigation. He represented the family of Chad Meredith, a University of Miami freshman who died during a fraternity hazing ritual in 2002. In addition to securing a $14 million verdict for Meredith’s parents, Bianchi also helped Florida legislators draft anti-hazing legislation referred to as the “Chad Meredith Act,” which then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law in 2005.
Bianchi told the Daily Business Review he is working with Florida legislators to update the state’s anti-hazing law and make it more stringent.
Representatives from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life at FSU did not respond to requests for comment by press time.