Virginia State University Woes

This March 8, 2007, photo shows the campus of Virginia State University in Petersburg.

Petersburg police have charged three Virginia State University fraternity members with causing bodily harm to 10 students during an alleged hazing incident Sunday on Pocahontas Island. The university has suspended the three defendants from school.

Police said in a Facebook post that officers arrested Deonte Barkley and George Feggins of Petersburg, and Michael Snipes of Philadelphia, who are members of VSU’s Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

Police did not provide the offenses with which they were charged, but court records show that each was charged with 10 counts of hazing “so as to cause bodily harm,” a misdemeanor. Feggins is 23, and Barkley and Snipes are 22, records show.

Barkley was arraigned Monday in Petersburg General District Court. Feggins and Snipes are to be arraigned Friday, a court clerk said Monday.

Police said Sunday’s alleged hazing incident occurred in a dead-end area of Pocahontas Island, a peninsula located on the north side of the Appomattox River within the limits of Petersburg. Officials declined to provide an account of what allegedly occurred.

Court records do not specify what transpired, but charging documents indicate that 10 students were hazed during a fraternity event.

In a statement, VSU said on its website that the university had suspended the Alpha Phi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity following the off-campus hazing incident. The three fraternity members charged have been suspended from the school pending the outcome of their criminal cases, VSU added.

The university said eight other students who participated in the hazing activity have been referred to the VSU Office of Judicial Affairs for disciplinary action “as a result of student conduct violations.” Court records show that a total of 10 people participated.

VSU officials said the university’s anti-hazing policy “clearly states that every form of hazing to include conspiracy to haze is prohibited.”

According to the state statute used in charging the three students, hazing means to recklessly or intentionally endanger the health or safety of a student or to inflict bodily injury on a student in connection with or for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with or as a condition for continued membership in a club, organization, association, fraternity or sorority, regardless of whether the student so endangered or injured participated voluntarily in the relevant activity.

The university has had several publicized hazing incidents in the past decade.

Nearly six years to the day of Sunday’s hazing incident, two VSU students drowned in the Appomattox River as they and four other students tried to cross the chilly, storm-swelled waters around midnight on April 20, 2013, as part of their initiation rite into the fraternal group Men of Honor.

The four men who led the seven students into harm’s way pleaded guilty two years later in Chesterfield County Circuit Court to involuntary manslaughter and hazing charges and were sentenced to varying jail terms.

Later that year, the families of two of the students killed filed twin $25 million wrongful death suits against the state of Virginia, claiming VSU was grossly negligent in its duty to protect the students from harm.

In 2012, a former VSU student who was injured and hospitalized in a fraternity hazing initiation more than three years earlier filed a $1.7 million lawsuit against Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and its local chapter at VSU.

In April 2013, four members of VSU’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity pleaded guilty in a 2012 hazing encounter in Petersburg. The facts of the incident were never disclosed.

The charges against the four fraternity brothers were dismissed a month later in a deal that, among other things, required them to spend several hours in a sheriff’s department holding cell and perform community service work.

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