Pi Kappa Phi

The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Coming and George streets is at the center of a College of Charleston conduct investigation into allegations that members attacked a fellow member at his home in April after a party at the organization's house. Andrew Knapp/Staff

The 21-year-old College of Charleston sophomore said a noise startled him from a drunken slumber.

Someone was in his apartment.

He walked downstairs, where he said four men punched him. It was dark that April night. They wore hoodies.

But he knew them. He had encountered the fellow members of Pi Kappa Phi earlier at a frat house party.

The ordeal, which left the student bloodied and bruised, sparked an investigation by police and the school, marking the latest setback for the Charleston fraternity scene marred lately by allegations of sexual misconduct and a drug ring involving current and former members. It also renewed questions statewide about measures to dissuade misbehavior and ensure accountability — in courts and on campus — for members of student organizations who step out of line.

A Charleston police investigator cited "mitigating" factors for arresting no one in the April attack. But a school probe is delving into whether the fraternity breached conduct rules and sanctions brought against it last year for an alcohol-fueled recruitment event. On Friday, the college ordered the chapter to stop all activities until the probe is done, a school spokesman said.

The student's attorney, meanwhile, has pushed authorities to reopen the criminal inquiry. Preparing for a possible lawsuit, lawyer Mark Peper said he has uncovered evidence of possible hazing and drug use, including camping excursions in which members were encouraged to bring necessities like "toilet paper and cocaine."

"If we're back to the age of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, then we've wasted 20 years of education," Peper said. "That sort of activity will inevitably lead to a situation like this. I hope they're not waiting on another Tucker Hipps incident."

Hipps was a fraternity pledge at Clemson University who fell to his death during a 2014 outing, but his case inspired a new law that has lifted the veil on unruly behavior, drug use and hazing at South Carolina's public colleges. It requires schools to summarize every violation online.

In the first year of disclosures, 28 new violations were recorded at seven schools, a Post and Courier review found. Sixteen of them involved alcohol — the most prominent problem — followed by 11 reports of hazing.

After seeing five violations last school year, Coastal Carolina University in Conway has reported only one violation in the recent year.

But other schools are seeing an uptick.

The University of South Carolina saw a jump from nine incidents to 15 while the College of Charleston spiked from three to eight.

State Rep. Joshua Putnam, the Piedmont Republican who pushed for the law, said improvements are still needed, particularly in developing anonymous reporting systems at all the schools and a better way to vet the claims.

"You would think that these activities would hamper down because of these public postings," the lawmaker said. "But it does not seem to faze anybody."

'80 bros behind us'

Alcohol flowed during the April 15 party at the Coming Street fraternity house. Pills were taken and cocaine was snorted, Peper said.

His client got "very drunk" and saw a new fraternity member talking to his ex-girlfriend, police documents stated. Unprovoked, he punched the young man three times, the reports said.

Others ushered him out, and he went back to his apartment on Woolfe Street.

Meanwhile, though, someone from the fraternity sent him a Facebook message.

"We will get 80 bros behind us to bury you, you (expletive) queer," it said, according to the police records.

The student was accustomed to fraternity brothers walking into his place unannounced; he considered them friends. But when he found the four there after midnight, he said, their presence was unwanted. They hit him and tackled him, he said.

He dialed 911, and paramedics checked him out at the scene. 

Fellow members later discouraged him from going to a doctor because of possible repercussions for the fraternity, his attorney reported. He eventually went.

But he also vacillated during the Charleston Police Department investigation about whether to pursue charges against the men. In paperwork, a detective noted other problems with the case: how he had failed to report assaulting the young member earlier and the possibility that he aimed to benefit financially from his plight by suing the national fraternity.

The case was closed.

To a group of attorneys representing the four suspects, that was a fitting end. The incident was "minor," lawyer Frank Cornely said in a statement for the group.

"Any further attention to the situation," he said, "places all students involved and the college in a negative light that overshadows much of the progress the college has made recently regarding Greek life on campus."

'Series of dangerous behaviors'

Pi Kappa Phi was founded more than a century ago at the school. Past members include college President Glenn McConnell.

It has been sanctioned twice in the past three years.

In 2014, members required new recruits to stay at the fraternity house for a week, leaving only to shower and attend classes, records showed. Sleep was restricted, and they couldn't use their cellphones.

Then in August, its recruitment events with alcohol brought the school's scrutiny again for reasons that could not be determined by The Post and Courier last week. The college issued limits on functions involving alcohol for the next three semesters.

Whether the group stuck to that condition is being examined, college spokesman Mike Robertson said.

The fraternity's national headquarters in Charlotte has received no report of violations at the party before the assault, said Justin Angotti, assistant executive director of education and accountability.

"The chapter is utilizing its internal conduct process to hold the individuals involved accountable for their behavior," he said.

But documentation gathered by the victim's attorney renewed concerns about rituals similar to the ones that caught the school's eye in the first place.

In Facebook posts, Peper said, members described bringing "blow," or cocaine, on a fraternity camping trip to the Francis Marion National Forest and planning other "sleepovers" for recruits. They spoke of preventing hazing allegations from spreading "like wildfire."

One post stated: "This should be obvious, but do not tell or admit to anyone about the slumber parties."

'When it becomes real'

Shortly after the parties that brought the fraternity's sanctions last year, McConnell cited a "series of dangerous behaviors" at several fraternities in suspending alcohol-related Greek life activities until a review could be done. That effort ended, the school spokesman said, with all fraternities and sororities falling into line.

Other universities have taken similar steps.

At the University of South Carolina, three fraternities were faulted earlier this year for hazing, drug use and raucous partying.

Shortly after McConnell's announcement in September, officials at USC said they would consider changes to the fraternity recruitment process there.

The university also plans to hire a new director of Greek life and a dean to oversee behavior issues such as hazing, alcohol use and sexual assault, said Jeff Stensland, a school spokesman.

"The good news is that more Greek members than ever before feel comfortable coming forward to report misdeeds," he said. "We are optimistic that our efforts are paying off."

Putnam, the legislator behind the Hipps law, said he wants procedures for handling fraternity misconduct to be standardized statewide. The law itself was a compromise, and its disclosure requirement will expire in two years.

But many school officials said they have seen a benefit from posting the information prominently on their websites.

Travis Overton, dean of students at Coastal Carolina, said fraternity and sorority members have noticed the new layer of public oversight.

"They are definitely paying attention to the fact that violations are posted publicly for the community to see," he said. "They're saying, 'Wow. If we are found in violation of policies, it will be posted.' That's something that resonates with them."

And it can factor into concerned students' decisions to join.

"That's when it becomes real for them," he said.

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Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the Quick Response Team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.