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Hazing allegations rock Cal State Bakersfield

Authorities allege that four students were repeatedly beaten and shot with a BB gun as part of an initiation to join an unsanctioned fraternity.

May 28, 2011|By Carla Rivera and Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

Cal State Bakersfield has been rocked by allegations that four students were repeatedly beaten and shot with a BB gun as part of an initiation to join an unsanctioned fraternity.

Bakersfield police began investigating the reports of hazing on April 28, a few days after a 25-year-old student was admitted to a local hospital with severe injuries.

Authorities allege that between March 28 and April 25, the hospitalized student and three others were assaulted on numerous occasions, including being shot at close range with a pellet pistol as part of pledging rites with a group claiming affiliation with the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

Three of those injured did not require medical aid, Bakersfield Police Sgt. Mary DeGeare said Friday.

Four suspects, including three current students at Cal State Bakersfield, were arrested and later released, authorities said. No charges have been filed in the case, but police say they are continuing to investigate.

Deandre Horn and student Ryan Nichols, both 22, were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, torture and conspiracy. Horn is a former student at the university.

Students Darlington Agu, 24, and Rickey Joy Jr., 20, were booked on suspicion of hazing and conspiracy. An arrest warrant for a fifth suspect, also a Cal State Bakersfield student, was issued but revoked pending the outcome of the investigation, officials said.

Nichols, Agu and Joy have been suspended, campus officials said. In a May 2 memorandum to the campus community, Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell said all the actions were reported to have occurred off-campus.

Several days after the men's arrest, the Kern County district attorney's office returned the case to the police, who are reviewing videos, cellphone records and other electronic evidence seized as a result of search warrants.

"It's not a rejection of the case, but they just needed to do some more investigation to make sure it's complete," said Assistant Dist. Atty. Scott Spielman.

The prosecutor said he could not remember a case of anyone being charged with hazing in Kern County. A misdemeanor conviction in the case could draw a year in jail; a felony conviction could bring up to three years.

Kappa Alpha Psi, a predominantly black fraternity, had been an approved student organization at Cal State Bakersfield from 1997 to 2007, when the group's charter was revoked because of low membership. It was reorganized in 2009 but denied renewal in 2010 after the fraternity's Western regional office said it was not an official chapter.

But the local group, which numbered between five and 10 members, had recently been trying to reestablish itself on campus, said Ben Robb, president of the Greek Council at Cal State Bakersfield.

Robb said he had not heard of any previous complaints associated with the group.

"We hadn't heard anything, but quite often with hazing, even if people don't make it through the pledging process, they often don't report anything," said Robb, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. "In this case, it is shocking and very saddening. We have strict rules and we have anti-hazing seminars every year. Our guidelines are that anything you think would be questionable, don't do it."

Richard Lee Snow, executive director at the Kappa Alpha Psi national headquarters in Philadelphia, said he could not comment directly on the Cal State Bakersfield allegations because his organization is also investigating.

"Kappa Alpha Psi does not condone hazing in any shape, form or fashion," said Snow, adding that the organization, with about 750 undergraduate and alumni chapters around the country, sends "our prayers and best wishes to anyone who may have been hurt due to this unfortunate incident and our wishes for a speedy recovery."

In 2006, the California state Legislature enacted and the governor signed a law that increased the severity of possible penalties when serious injury or death results from hazing, reclassifying some misdemeanors as felonies.

The legislation, called "Matt's Law," was named in memory of Matt Carrington, a 21-year-old Cal State Chico student who died as a result of a hazing incident the year before.

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