BROOKLYN (CN) – Parents say Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Cornell University killed their son in a hazing ceremony in which frat brothers tied his ankles and wrists, forced him to drink alcohol until he lost consciousness, and left him to die on a couch at the fraternity house.
The mother says her son, George Desdunes, a sophomore at Cornell and a member of the fraternity, was kidnapped by pledges as part of a “long-standing fraternity ritual that was authorized and encouraged by SAE chapter officers and members.” The mother, Marie Lourdes André, says her son was questioned about the fraternity’s history, and when he answered a question wrong he “was compelled to do exercises like crutches or sit-ups or to consume various substances, including water, flavored syrups, sugar, and vodka.”
When her son became sick with alcohol poisoning, the pledges continued to “ply him with alcohol” until he “became completely unresponsive and lost consciousness,” his mother says.
Desdunes “was unable to care for himself and required prompt, emergency medical treatment,” but pledges dumped him onto a couch in the SAE house, “where he was unattended and left to die,” his mother says. This happened in February this year.
André says that when her son was “found in the morning by Cornell personnel, unresponsive and still bound at the wrists and ankles, one pledge sought to cover up the wrongdoing by having the zip ties removed from the scene before police arrived.” Desdunes’ blood alcohol level was .409 hours after the ritual ended, the complaint states.
His mother says the pledges “knew or should have known that George had consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol as a result of this hazing ritual,” and “had become incapacitated and was unable to walk or take care of himself.” Had he received timely medical care, “he would have survived unharmed,” the complaint states.
André says it’s not the first time the fraternity has been accused of abuses. In 2006, SAE was instructed to “maintain consistent contact” with its Cornell chapter after the university found “a manual purportedly requiring new members to clean vomit out of a car, purchase illegal drugs, and perform sexual acts,” according to the complaint.
André says the fraternity’s dangerous and abusive traditions have continued as the result of its “management structure that ensures that all critical safety policies and practices can be implemented, or safely revised, only if approved by its undergraduate members, most of whom have absolutely no knowledge of the risks involved, have themselves joined SAE to share in the binge, and have never been held accountable for the consequences of their votes and their fraternity’s failure to implement change.”
The 39-page complaint cites a long list of deaths from abusive fraternity hazing (pp.13-17), and claims that “It is widely reported and well known among Greek organizations that at least one student has died in fraternity pledge activities every year since 1970.”
André says that Travis Apgar, an associate dean of students at Cornell, wrote to parents of Cornell first-year students: “When considering fraternities and sororities, many parents may think of the negative images portrayed in popular media. The Greek community of Cornell prides itself for not living up to those kinds of stereotypical behaviors.”
Apgar is not a defendant.
André says Apgar gave this “assurance” to parents despite his “personal experience, knowledge of continued problems in Greek life across the country, and documented reports that Greek-hazing complaints at Cornell had increased nearly eight-fold since 2004-2005, resulting in 22 complaints, and documenting a 26 percent increase in social complaints, likely involving misuse of alcohol.”
Defendants include Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity and affiliates, and 10 named members of the fraternity.
André seeks $25 million for wrongful death and negligence. She is represented by William Friedlander with Friedlander, Friedlander and Arcesi of Ithaca.