Penn Student Sues Fraternity Over Injuries from Hazing

April 30, 2006

A University of Pennsylvania student has sued the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and two of its members because, he says, they beat and branded him in a hazing incident six months ago.

E. Martyn Griffen, 21, the son of an Arkansas appeals court judge, claims in a federal lawsuit that a fraternity member repeatedly punched his thighs, damaging them to the point where he can no longer participate in long-distance running, the sport he competed in during high school.

Another fraternity member carried out a “de-facto branding” by continuously snapping a rubber band on Griffen’s upper arm, leaving a scar, according to the lawsuit.

The Oct. 12 hazing was part of a group punishment meted out after Alpha Phi Alpha members said one of the pledges had divulged fraternity secrets to someone outside the organization, according to the lawsuit.

Penn last month suspended the fraternity until July 2008 after a university investigation found the chapter had violated the school’s anti-hazing regulations, spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman said in a statement Thursday. She did not mention any specifics of the violation.

Griffen’s civil suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, names as defendants Lionel Anderson-Perez, Kelechi Okereke and the Baltimore-based national Alpha Phi Alpha organization, the country’s oldest black fraternity. It alleges assault, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

An attorney for Anderson-Perez, accused of the beating, declined comment. A lawyer for Okereke, the other fraternity member, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Griffen initially sought medical help from a health services center at the university, trying to pass off his injuries as the result of athletic activity, said his attorney, Robert Sachs.

“There’s a great deal of peer pressure to keep the true nature of what went on from being disclosed,” said Sachs.

It was when Griffen went home to Little Rock, Ark., for Thanksgiving that his family noticed he was limping, Sachs said.

Subsequent medical diagnoses found that the punching led to the development of bone-like, calcified deposits on Griffen’s thighs, his attorney said.

Griffen, a junior, has since withdrawn from Penn, but plans to return in the fall, Sachs said. His father, Wendell L. Griffen, has served on the Arkansas Court of Appeals since 1996.

The National Pan-Hellenic Council — an umbrella organization for the country’s nine historically black fraternities and sororities, including Alpha Phi Alpha — banned pledging in 1990 because of hazing concerns, and reiterated that position in recent years.

Would-be members are supposed to be inducted through “a revised membership development and intake process” in each organization, according the policy.

Griffen’s lawsuit contends that Alpha Phi Alpha’s national organization knows about so-called “underground” pledging but has done nothing to stop it.

“The fraternity does not condone hazing in any way,” said Michael Pegues, general counsel for Alpha Phi Alpha. “Hazing is not a part of what we stand for.”

Representatives of the National Pan-Hellenic Council did not return calls for comment.

Alpha Phi Alpha chapters have been accused of hazing elsewhere. Eight men were indicted on felony assault charges in Dallas in January 2004 after one pledge was left in a coma following the forced consumption of large amounts of water. He eventually recovered.

Seven members of the fraternity at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa., were suspended in March 1999 after hazing resulted in a sophomore being hospitalized with internal injuries.

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