West Virginia University Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Named in Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit
At The Doan Law Firm, our fraternity hazing lawyer maintains an “in-house” database that tracks reported incidents of fraternity “hazing” and other types of “misconduct” by what are sometimes referred to as “Greek Letter Fraternal Organizations.” In most cases, the targets of hazing survive with nothing worse than a hangover and a few minor injuries such as abrasions and bruises. In other cases, such as the one described below, the results have been catastrophic.
In today’s post, the fraternity hazing lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will present what he believes to be one of the most disgusting incidents of fraternity misconduct to have come to our attention since we began tracking such incidents in our database. He will then explain why, given that the majority of schools and fraternities will simply ignore such incidents, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit in order to obtain justice for your son.
On the night of November 10, 2018, 22-year-old David Rusko of Uniontown (PA), a member of West Virginia University’s Gamma Chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, was the victim of what the university later described as a “misstep” on a staircase. Had his fraternity “brothers” immediately sought medical assistance for the unconscious Rusko, a tragedy may have been averted. Instead, according to a West Virginia University Police investigation, his “brothers”:
- poured catsup onto the obviously-unconscious Rusko
- posed for “selfies” with Rusko
- apparently thought so little of his condition that some “brothers” felt it unnecessary to interrupt their time at a nearby billiards table
- waited two hours before notifying first responders of Rusko’s injury
After finally receiving medical care in the Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital, Russo’s condition eventually stabilized to the extent that he could be transferred to the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation center in Atlanta (GA) that specializes in the rehabilitation of severe brain and spinal cord injuries. Russo was eventually discharged from this facility to the custody of his family. However, the extent of his recovery is unknown at this time.
The University’s “Official” Response
The school’s President, Gordon Gee, issued the obligatory statement regarding the incident:
"We have been in touch with David’s family and offered them our support during this difficult time. Our hope is that he makes a full and speedy recovery. David was visiting with fellow fraternity brothers Saturday after the football game when he fell down some stairs at the house. He was later transported to the hospital to be treated for complications from the fall. We are still gathering information to get a clearer picture of what occurred."
On November 15th West Virginia University, and the national headquarters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, placed the local chapter on temporary suspension “pending investigation” of the incident. Although a thorough search of the regional and national news media has been made, we cannot find any mention regarding the outcome of that investigation. We can, however, assume that the school and Sigma Alpha Epsilon did not think it necessary to sanction the fraternity in any way!
Two months later, the school announced that 18 students had been “disciplined” following its investigation into the matter. Of those, 15 were given “… disciplinary actions, ranging from deferred suspension to probation, stemming from related Student Conduct Code violations …” while 3 “… agreed to permanent separation from the university …”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Response
According to the Twitter page of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Gamma Chapter at West Virginia University, the fraternity made no mention of the fact that it had been “temporarily suspended” by both the school and the fraternity’s national headquarters while the circumstances surrounding Rusko’s injuries were being “investigated.” In fact, the only mention of David Rusko at all came in a November 12, 2018 “Tweet” inviting the reader to “Please come out tonight and support our brother in this time of need” at a “prayer vigil” to be held that evening at 8:00 p.m.
Nothing else is mentioned regarding Rusko’s injuries until June 27, 2019, one day after the lawsuit was filed:
"Some Great News for Our Chapter Recently:
Brother David Rusko has made his way back home after an unfortunate, tragic accident back in November. David has been a fighter through this process and we are all proud of him and happy to call him our brother!" [Emphasis added]
Also on June 27th:
"Additionally, we raised money for David and the Rusko Family through wearing customized bracelets. We raised around $500 and we hope to donate more in the near future through fundraising! We love you Dave and we know you’ll be back and stronger than ever." [Emphasis added]
In case you haven’t been hospitalized recently, $500 will cover about 6 hours in an Intensive Care Unit!
Sigma Alpha Epsilon: “The Deadliest Fraternity in America”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s “mission statement” claims the fraternity’s "To promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship and service for our members based upon the ideals set forth by our Founders and as specifically enunciated in our creed." Even though its members refer to themselves as “True Gentlemen,” their recent history suggests otherwise.
In December of 2013, Bloomberg.com published an article by investigative journalist John Hechinger under the headline “Deadliest Frat’s Icy ‘Torture’ of Pledges Evokes Tarantino Films” (see also this infographic). In that article, he documented 10 deaths that could be directly linked to SAE initiation rituals or to SAE-sponsored “events” such as parties or new-member recruitment “rushes” since the year 2000.
Since the Bloomberg article, and in addition to the West Virginia University incident, SAE’s “True Gentlemen” have been involved in incidents such as:
- An April 2014 suspension at the University of Arizona following a brawl with members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity
- The infamous March 2015 incident at the University of Oklahoma where SAE members were seen on a YouTube video singing a song that included racial epithets.
- A February 2018 allegation that four women at Northwestern University were given a “date-rape” drug at a SAE party, resulting in two confirmed sexual assaults.
- The December 2018 death of an “alumnus member,” 23-year-old Paul Hamilton Ten Eyck, who was found dead inside the SAE fraternity house at Tennessee Tech.
- The January 2019 death of an UC-Irvine freshman, 18-year-old Noah Domingo, at a SAE-sponsored party, from “acute alcohol poisoning.”
- Its February 2019 expulsion from campus at North Georgia University for repeated violations of the school’s Code of Conduct policies.
Why you need a fraternity hazing lawyer
We wish that we could tell you that this was an isolated incident in which a few “rogues” acted childishly and that both the school and the fraternity took immediate action against those responsible for this young man’s lifetime of disability. Apparently, with the exception of offering a few prayers and the collection of a few dollars in “donations,” both West Virginia University and Sigma Alpha Epsilon consider the matter to be “over and done with!”
Of course, not all colleges and fraternities are as indifferent to the well-being of their students and “brothers” as West Virginia University and Sigma Alpha Epsilon appear to have been. However, if you son has been injured by a fraternity accident, you will probably be forced to file a lawsuit in order to obtain justice and to punish those responsible.
If your son was injured by fraternity hazing or some other misconduct, we invite you to contact The Doan Law Firm, a national fraternity hazing injury law practice to arrange a free, confidential, review of the facts regarding your son’s injury and a review of the legal options that may be available to you.
When you contact our firm, your case review and first consultation with our fraternity hazing lawyer are always free, confidential, and do not obligate you in any way to hiring us as your legal counsel. Should you decide that a lawsuit is in order, and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for every aspect of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.