March 28, 2012

Sigma Alpha Epsilon Denies Fault in Brother’s 2011 Death

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Sigma Alpha Epsilon argues that the death of George Desdunes ’13 was the result of his own “culpable conduct,” according to a defense brief filed by the national fraternity earlier this month. Denying all charges in the $25 million wrongful death lawsuit brought by the mother of Desdunes, the SAE brother who died after a pledging event last February, the fraternity claims that it does not have a pledge process and that it does not require anything of pledges.SAE also demands that any damages awarded to the plaintiff — Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andres — should be paid by the 20 former SAE brothers and pledges also named as defendants in the complaint. In a separate, criminal lawsuit, three SAE pledges were indicted on charges of first-degree hazing and first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.The fraternity denies liability for actions taken by individual brothers or pledges at specific chapters. It argues in response to the suit that SAE did not directly exhibit “negligence, carelessness, and/or culpable conduct” and that Desdunes’ death was not the result of any direct action or negligence by the organization.In its response to the suit, SAE also argues that Desdunes was partly or wholly responsible for his own death.

SAE claims that Desdunes both “assumed the risk” and “consented to the risk” of the actions that led to his alcohol poisoning, from which he died on Feb. 25, 2011, at Cayuga Medical Center shortly after he was found unresponsive on a couch in the fraternity house. Shortly thereafter, Cornell revoked its recognition of the SAE fraternity.According to allegations made by Desundes’ mother in the wrongful death lawsuit, several SAE pledges kidnapped Desdunes, tied a noose around his neck and kept him bound and blindfolded while pledges quizzed him on fraternity history. Each time Desdunes answered incorrectly, the pledges forced him to perform exercises or drink alcoholic substances, the suit alleges.The national SAE organization has faced scrutiny since hazing incidents have been reported at its chapters on several campuses in addition to Cornell.In March 2011, the SAE chapter at the University of Michigan was expelled from campus after allegations surfaced that brothers physically abused pledges, according to The Huffington Post. One month later, Bucknell’s SAE chapter was suspended for four years for hazing incidents involving illegal alcohol and drug use, The Bucknellian reported.This month, 27 SAE brothers at Dartmouth College were charged with hazing by the university for allegedly forcing pledges to engage in dehumanizing behavior including swimming in and swallowing vomit, The Dartmouth reported.SAE’s response follows briefs filed by the defense attorneys of three pledges — Max Haskin ’14, Ben Mann ’14 and Edward Williams ’14 — who have been charged in criminal court.According to the defense lawyers, Desdunes voluntarily consumed a large amount of alcohol before consenting to take part in the “mock kidnapping” that preceded his death last year.While Andre, Desdunes’ mother, alleges in her suit that pledges “compelled [Desdunes] to consume alcohol until he lost consciousness,” the defense argues that the consumption of alcohol during the incidents leading up to his death was “wholly voluntary.”Andre’s suit says that after a hazing event in which he was tied up and given alcohol by pledge members, Desdunes became so intoxicated that he “required immediate medical treatment. Instead, he was taken by the pledges, still bound at the wrists and ankles, and dumped on a couch in the SAE house where he was unattended and left to die.”But according to the defendants’ lawyers, Desdunes voluntarily drank “at least 10 to 12 ounces and perhaps as much as 15 to 20 ounces of alcohol (rum and whiskey)” — one shot is approximately equivalent to 1.5 ounces — at the SAE fraternity earlier in the night before the pledge event. One former SAE brother reportedly saw Desdunes “with a virtually empty bottle of Captain Morgan rum” and another later observed Desdunes in an “intoxicated condition,” the defendants’ paper states.

Original Author: Harrison Okin