LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) - Texas Tech rigged a disciplinary hearing to scapegoat a student for the alcohol poisoning death of a fraternity pledge that he had nothing to do with, the former student claims in court.
Reece Walker, former vice president of the university's now-inactive Alpha Sigma Phi chapter, sued Texas Tech University, its president Duane Nellis and two other officials, on March 25 in Lubbock County Court.
Walker claims the officials designed his disciplinary hearing to find him guilty and deny him due process and equal rights.
Walker was expelled on Feb. 11 after a disciplinary hearing on the alcohol-related death of freshman pledge Dalton Debrick.
Debrick died in his sleep the night of Aug. 23, 2014, after an off-campus frat party just hours before the 2014 school year began.
Walker says he was not involved in planning the fraternity's ill-fated "Bid Day" party but "merely assisted others as they called upon him for assistance."
Nonetheless, he says, he received the harshest punishment from officials, who denied him the opportunity to present evidence in his favor or confront and cross-examine witnesses against him.
"Defendants provided a system of 'hearings' designed to find plaintiff guilty," Walker says in the complaint. "These hearings were not intended to afford plaintiff even a modicum of fundamental fairness. Defendants engaged in a desperate attempt to hold someone responsible to make the university look better in the court of public opinion, and plaintiff was designed to become that scapegoat."
Walker, a junior majoring in public relations, claims that despite the disciplinary committee's findings, he did not supply the party with a "full box of whiskey."
He says he bought cups, ice, and pizza for the intoxicated partygoers but watched football elsewhere as the party continued.
He says he returned to the fraternity party "to chaperone and clean up," and eventually helped Debrick "to a bedroom of the house to lie down."
"Plaintiff left the party at around 2:30 am, with his brother, and planned to come back the next morning to give Dalton a ride when he woke up. Plaintiff checked on Dalton before he left, and ascertained that Dalton appeared to be OK. Dalton indicated that he was going to sleep it off and plaintiff could give him a ride the next day," Walker says in complaint.
"Tragically, after plaintiff left, Dalton Debrick passed away in his sleep."
Walker says what followed was a series of flawed disciplinary hearings "by university officials desperately seeking someone to be held accountable for the incident."
"Of the other students that were charged in this matter, many of whom had a greater degree of involvement and culpability in the death of Dalton Debrick, plaintiff received the maximum suspension of expulsion," Walker says.
He claims the disciplinary committee deprived him of due process rights because his attorney wasn't allowed to speak at the hearing, but "was only allowed to advise him."
"Texas Tech and its officials are abusing the procedural and substantive due process rights of its students in attempting to expel Walker without due process of law. This abuse must be stopped," Walker says.
He says he was on track to graduate in May 2016 but is now "falling further behind in his studies, and is incurring irreparable damage from not being able to attend classes, to work toward his degree, complete assignments or sit for exams."
He seeks damages for due process and equal rights violations and a temporary restraining order and injunction preventing the university "from disenrolling him or barring him from classes until a temporary injunction can be held."
He is represented by Robert S. Hogan of Lubbock.
Texas Tech had 35,158 students in the fall term of 2014. It is in Lubbock, near the Texas Panhandle. The Alpha Sigma Phi chapter was suspended after Debrick's death and is still listed as inactive on the fraternity's national website and the university's list of Greek organizations.
The 22-page lawsuit includes another 98 pages of exhibits.
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