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USF suspends Omega Psi Phi fraternity amid hazing allegations

TAMPA — The University of South Florida chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity has been suspended while detectives investigate allegations of two nights of off-campus hazing, officials said Monday.

The hazing — authorities aren't saying what happened — took place about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22 and 23, police said. Tampa officers were called to campus by USF police about 3 p.m. Friday.

Since then, detectives have conducted "numerous interviews" with potential victims, suspects and witnesses, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

"We are investigating to determine if a crime occurred," she said. None of the potential suspects is a current USF student, no arrests have been made and the investigation is expected to take several days, police said.

No one received medical treatment as a result of the incidents, McElroy said.

Nationwide, Omega Psi Phi boasts an impressive roster of alumni, including Bill Cosby, poet Langston Hughes, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Florida Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek.

But the fraternity also has landed in the news over allegations of hazing.

In May, Purdue University suspended the fraternity's chapter. In April, a University of Houston senior sued the fraternity and several members, contending that hazing put the student in the emergency room. In 2003, the fraternity itself expelled 13 members in Huntsville, Ala., following hazing allegations. And in 2000, the fraternity agreed to pay $1 million to a former University of Louisville student beaten in a hazing incident in 1997.

The president of the USF Omega Psi Phi chapter could not be reached for comment Monday night.

Christopher M. Cooper, the grand counselor of the fraternity's national organization, said he couldn't comment on the USF allegations, but he said Omega Psi Phi "is vehemently opposed to any form of hazing and has a zero-tolerance policy."

The incidents that led to the suspension of the USF chapter took place at 2112 W Busch Blvd., police said. A business at that address is the storefront office of J&G Tax. A call to the business' number was not returned.

On Monday night, a week after the last of the incidents, a row of folding chairs lined one wall of the tax office, with a large open space on the floor in front of them. The manager of a neighboring restaurant said he wasn't aware of any trouble at the office.

University students, faculty and staff learned of the investigation late Monday afternoon in an e-mail from USF president Judy Genshaft.

"Hazing is illegal," Genshaft said in the e-mail. "It is against university policy, and it is totally unacceptable at USF."

Her e-mail did not identify the fraternity, which set the campus abuzz.

"That was kind of a shock," student body vice president Spencer Montgomery said. "I was sitting at my desk (when the e-mail arrived), and it was like, whoa."

USF 2009 graduate Garin Flowers, an Omega Psi Phi alumnus and a former USF student body president, said he knew nothing about the incident but had heard a little second- and third-hand. Still, he indicated he wouldn't be surprised to hear from investigators, who have called others he knows.

"I haven't even talked to police," Flowers said. "I think they're going to call me, from what I've heard. I was one of the last graduates of the chapter."

As soon as administrators learned of the allegations, USF took what Genshaft described as the "severest possible action." The Omega Psi Phi chapter was suspended, and the chapter's national organization was notified so that it could begin an investigation.

The suspension means that the chapter is not recognized by USF. "They can't meet. They can't rent rooms. They can't operate on this campus," USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said.

This is not USF's first incident involving accusations of hazing.

In 2006, the 70-member USF chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha shut down amid allegations of alcohol and hazing violations.

In 1999, the Alpha Eta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority was suspended after pledges complained they had been beaten and bruised with a wooden paddle.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

USF suspends Omega Psi Phi fraternity amid hazing allegations 08/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 1:52pm]

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