Fifteen men have been charged with the alcohol poisoning death of a Washington State University student, prosecutors said Wednesday, after a year-long police investigation into a fraternity pledge case of 2019.
The men were members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity when the student, a freshman named Samuel Martinez, died in 2019, according to Denis Tracy, the Whitman County District Attorney. The men, now aged 20 to 23, have each been charged with providing alcohol to minors, Mr Tracy said in a statement.
The charges relate to an investigation by the Pullman Police Department into the death of Mr Martinez, who was 19 when he pledged to join the fraternity. Mr Martinez died of alcohol poisoning on November 12, 2019, after attending a fraternity event, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Mr Martinez’s family said in a statement: “While the accusations may lead to a certain level of responsibility, it is not justice. It does not bring us closure.
The family said they were “deeply disappointed” that hazing charges had not been filed. “The Pullman Police Department has allowed the statute of limitations for this charge to expire,” the family statement said. “This despite the fact that the Pullman Police found substantial evidence of hazing which would have supported hazing charges.”
The police investigation, which Mr. Tracy described as “extensive”, was assigned to his office in February. He said in a statement that Washington state requires that any criminal charges of hazing be filed within one year. “As the police investigation lasted over a year,” he said, “I have not made a decision regarding the hazing.”
Police Chief Gary Jenkins told KREM-TV news station earlier this year the investigation took more than a year because it involved a large number of interviews, some witnesses had left the area as a result of interruptions in class and because of difficulty accessing a cell phone to obtain evidence.
Mr Martinez’s family said he and another pawn were ordered to finish half a gallon of rum between them and his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.372 after his death, nearly five times the legal limit.
Providing alcohol to minors is a serious offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $ 5,000.
Mr. Martinez’s family said these potential sanctions were “insulting to the devastating consequences of their actions, which directly led to Sam’s death, and the loss we live with for the rest of our lives.”
The defendants will be subpoenaed to appear in Whitman County District Court, according to Mr. Tracy. It was not immediately clear whether they had lawyers.
Last year, Mr Martinez’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and the fraternity. Jolayne Houtz, Mr Martinez’s mother, said Thursday the trial was continuing to advance, although a party was suspended pending resolution of the criminal charges. The trial date is set for March 2022, she said.
A spokesperson for Washington State University declined to comment on the charges on Thursday. The fraternity did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a Seattle Times op-ed, Houtz called for an end to the traditions of hazing on college campuses. “The college fraternity system,” she wrote, “is long overdue for the kind of calculation many other American institutions now face for allowing and perpetuating violence, injustice, and destructive behavior. “
The charges are the latest in a string of cases involving the serious injury or death of students at fraternity-related events across the country.
In April, eight men were charged with the death of Stone Foltz, 20, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Mr. Foltz passed away in March, days after attending an off-campus fraternity event; School officials said in a statement they were “aware of suspected hazing activities involving alcohol consumption.”
In November, a member of the Phi Kappa Psi section of Louisiana State University was indicted in an off-campus hazing event that left another student on life support, authorities said. In that case, prosecutors filed a dozen counts of misdemeanor and one count of felony of criminal hazing, and one count of non-seeking help after a student was dropped off at a hospital with a severe alcohol poisoning.