Blog : Virginia

Three Virginia State University (VSU) Fraternity Members Charged in Alleged Hazing Incident

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Petersburg, Virginia Police have charged 3 Virginia State University (VSU) Kappa Alpha Psi (ΚΑΨ ) fraternity members in an alleged hazing incident over the weekend on Pocahontas Island. University officials said 8 other students participated in the activity.

Police did not provide the offenses with which the 3 men were charged, but online court records show that one Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member was charged with 10 counts of misdemeanor hazing and was to appear in court Monday morning. No charges were listed for the other two students.

University officials said the 3 students “are being charged with hazing-related criminal offenses,” but did not specify the charges.

The 8 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.”

VSU officials said the university’s anti-hazing policy “clearly states that every form of hazing to include conspiracy to haze is prohibited.” The university has had several publicized hazing incidents in the past decade.

Read The News & Advance Full Article Here.

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ODU Suspends Omega Psi Phi for 5 Years After Hazing Investigation

Image result for old dominion universityThe Omega Psi Phi chapter at Old Dominion University has been suspended for 5 years after an investigation showed that hazing resulted in a pledge seeking treatment at a hospital.

Members allegedly beat pledges, made them drink hot sauce, and poured the sauce on their genitals to simulate a sexually transmitted disease.

AP Article Here.

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Sharon Bottoms Mattes, Who Lost Gay Rights Custody Battle to Her Mother, Dies at 48

The Washington Post | By Matt Schudel | February 16, 2019

Sharon Bottoms Mattes, a central figure in a prolonged court battle in the 1990s who lost custody of her son to her mother after Virginia courts ruled that she was “an unfit parent” because she was involved in a same-sex relationship, died Jan. 21 at her home in Richlands, N.C. She was 48.

Her family placed a death notice that was published in January in the Jacksonville (N.C.) Daily News. According to Facebook posts by members of her family, the cause of death was cancer. Efforts to reach members of her family were unsuccessful.

In 1991, Ms. Mattes, then known as Sharon Bottoms, gave birth to a son, Tyler Doustou. By then, she was already divorced from the boy’s father, who was not involved in raising the child.

About a year later, Ms. Mattes and April Wade, a food-service worker, formed a household together near Richmond. Ms. Mattes’s mother, Kay Bottoms, later sought to gain custody of Tyler.

The bitter court battle — pitting mother against daughter and involving intimate and embarrassing details of their lives — played out in courtrooms for three years before it was ultimately decided by the Virginia Supreme Court.

The case was watched closely, as gay and lesbian activists sought to extend their parental rights. It was watched just as closely by conservative religious groups, who viewed it as “another step in the gradual degradation and deconstruction of American society,” as Walter E. Barbee, president of the Family Foundation, put it.

The Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union handled much of Ms. Mattes’s legal defense. After a juvenile court judge ruled in favor of Kay Bottoms’s demand for custody, the case heard before Circuit Court Judge Buford M. Parsons Jr.

As the case developed, Ms. Mattes said her mother’s live-in boyfriend had subjected her to repeated sexual attacks, beginning when she was 12. Her mother said she was not aware of any sexual abuse.

After dropping out of high school, Ms. Mattes held a series of part-time jobs, mostly as a store clerk, and had a short-lived marriage. Her former husband, Dennis Doustou, testified in support of Ms. Mattes.

Under questioning, Ms. Mattes admitted that she and Wade occasionally kissed in Tyler’s presence and, in private, engaged in oral sex. At the time, oral sex was considered sodomy in Virginia and was classified as a felony, whether performed by straight couples, same-sex couples or anyone else. It was not decriminalized until 2014.

Parsons upheld the juvenile court’s decision, awarding custody of Tyler to Kay Bottoms, declaring in his decision that Ms. Mattes’s “conduct is illegal and immoral” and “renders her an unfit parent.”

Ms. Mattes was allowed to see her 2-year-old son from Monday morning to Tuesday night — but only if she did not take him to the home she shared with Wade, who had no visitation rights.

“It’s the kind of case that strikes terror in people’s hearts,” Liz Hendrickson, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said at the time. “It makes them wonder, ‘Could this happen to me?’ ”

Because she could not afford a hotel room, Ms. Mattes met her son at a friend’s house.

“We hang out, go to the park. Lots of things,” she said.

She did interviews with People magazine, “Larry King Live” and “Geraldo.” Her mother, who lived in a mobile home in Spotsylvania County, went on Sally Jessy Raphael’s television show and said her daughter “was doing drugs, she partied, she wanted to have a good time. . . . I have threatened her many times I was going to take him.”

In a 1993 interview with The Washington Post, Ms. Mattes said her son would fall to sleep only if she put his head on her stomach.

“I cried the first time he did it,” she said. “Do you think he knows it’s where he came from?”

In 1994, a Virginia Court of Appeals panel ruled unanimously that Ms. Mattes should have primary custody of her son.

“I’m not a hero,” she said at the time. “I’m just a mother trying to get her son back.”

Her legal victory was short-lived. Lawyers for her mother filed an appeal, during which the custody arrangement remained unchanged.

During later court hearings, the original juvenile court judge, William G. Boice, criticized Ms. Mattes and Wade for cooperating with the producers of a TV movie, “Two Mothers for Zachary,” which ultimately aired in 1996.

Ms. Mattes’s lawyer said she was not paid for the film.

In 1995, the case of Bottoms v. Bottoms reached the Virginia Supreme Court. In a 4-to-3 decision, the court determined that the “moral climate” in Ms. Mattes’s home made her “an unfit custodian at this time.”

Her mother was granted permanent custody of Tyler.

“Living daily under conditions stemming from active lesbianism practiced in the home,” Justice A. Christian Compton wrote, “may impose a burden upon a child by reason of the ‘social condemnation’ attached to such an arrangement.”

Conservative groups hailed the decision as a victory for traditional moral values. Gay rights groups were outraged.

“Not that long ago, there were courts that ruled that being lesbian, gay or bisexual meant you couldn’t be a parent to your own children,” James Esseks, an ACLU lawyer overseeing gay rights cases, said Saturday in an interview. “It is shocking to people today.”

In 1996, Ms. Mattes abandoned her legal fight. She gave no more interviews for the rest of her life.

Sharon Lynne Bottoms was born Feb. 20, 1970. Little is known of her early years in Virginia or what happened after her court battle ended in 1996.

According to Facebook posts, she married Bill Mattes in 2012. She was the co-owner of a kennel in North Carolina.

Her son, now 27, served in the military and lives in Virginia. He posted a tribute to his mother on Facebook.

In addition to her husband and son, survivors include her mother; her husband’s three children; a brother; and a grandson.

“We don’t regret this fight, but we feel it’s something we shouldn’t have to go through,” Ms. Mattes told the New York Times in 1995, in one of her final public statements. “I deserve my baby. I gave birth to him. I want him.”

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group honor her struggle and regret her inability to obtain justice.

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Rolling Stone & The Fierberg National Law Group Take Aim at Frat’s Reputation in VA Defamation Suit

The Fierberg National Law Group Is Part of The Legal Team Representing Rolling Stone Magazine in Defamation Lawsuit Brought By Phi Kappa Psi Fraternities.

A synopsis of The Fierberg National Law Group‘s recent briefing on behalf of Rolling Stone – as reported by Ashley Cullins of The Hollywood Reporter – reads:

Rolling Stone argues records involving sexual assault at nationwide Phi Kappa Psi fraternities are paramount to its defamation fight against the Virginia Alpha Chapter over its since-redacted story of the gang rape of a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” that purportedly occurred at its campus frat house. And while the magazine knocked out a defamation suit from a handful of fraternity brothers, this is but the first round of a $25 million fight with the chapter itself. 

PKP has filed motions to quash subpoenas for documents regarding “claims, investigations, risk assessments, and disciplinary actions relating to incidents of sexual misconduct, alcohol abuse, and/or fraternity hazing” that involve PKP as a whole and other local chapters. Rolling Stone argues the documents are relevant because the national organization’s brand and the local chapter’s reputation are “inextricably intertwined.” 

“If other chapters of PKP nationwide have been disciplined and/or suspended in response to incidents of sexual assault and hazing, those incidents affect the value of the reputation that goes along with being recognized in the world as a ‘Phi Kappa Psi brother’ and, accordingly, are relevant to the damages claimed by VAC,” writes attorney Robert Hall.

In its motion to quash, PKP argues that VAC is a separate entity from the national organization and any harm to its reputation and membership are specific to the local chapter. “In regards to PKP and the Other Chapters, the information requested is not relevant to the litigation nor is it likely to lead to admissible evidence,” writes attorney Dirk McClanahan. “For example, assuming arguendo there was a hazing or sexual misconduct incident in Ames, Iowa, that incident would not prove or disprove the truth of an article that wrongly accused a party of a detailed and specific gang-rape allegation in Charlottesville, VA.” Alternatively, the organization asked the court to designate any materials produced as in camera only, attorney’s eyes only or confidential. 

Rolling Stone, The Fierberg National Law Group, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, University of Virginia, Fraternity sexual assault, college sexual assault, university sexual assault, Title IX
Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Virginia Alpha Chapter house at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.  Jay Paul / Getty Images

The magazine’s lawyers pulled no punches in the responding memo filed March 27, indicating the fraternity chose not to speak up before the story ran. 

“While numerous criticisms have been leveled at Rolling Stone, entirely missing from that discourse, until now, are the conscious decisions by VAC, guided by multiple lawyers, public relations experts, and national and alumni advisors to assume the risk of remaining largely silent and not sharing with Rolling Stone…the factual discrepancies in Jackie’s story of which they were aware before and immediately after the Article was published,” writes Hall. “For had they done so, the Article never would have been published.”

Rolling Stone argues that for at least two months before its article was published, both the local chapter and national organization were “regularly advised” by university staff regarding the allegations.

“The initial failure by VAC and PKP to instantly and categorically deny the allegations is evidence that they believed, like multiple trained personnel at UVA, that these extreme allegations of sexual violence and wrongdoing at a VAC event were plausible,” writes Hall.

Further, the magazine argues that the fraternity had “the knowledge, power, choice and wealth of opportunity to mitigate or avoid the harm it allegedly suffered from the Article,” and the motivation for the lawsuit is money.

“The award sought would underwrite VAC’s operations for some 160 years, or until approximately the year 2177,” writes Hall. “This is a particularly egregious demand given that VAC did not lose any members post-publication.” 

The magazine also argues that PKP failed to show that the records sought warrant in camera only or attorney’s eyes only protection. It does not object to a confidential designation under a previously stipulated protective order.

A hearing on the matter is set for Wednesday afternoon in Charlottesville Circuit Court. Trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 23.

Rolling Stone also is appealing a highly controversial ruling in the defamation suit brought by then-UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo. The court found story itself wasn’t defamatory, but rather the magazine defamed the dean when it appended the original story with a retraction. Many in the legal industry and the press have warned that the ruling, if it stands, will likely chill media apologies.

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Virginia Tech Massacre

In re April 16, 2007 Massacre at Virginia Tech University.  Represent 20 families who suffered devastating losses as a result of the massacre of students and faculty on the campus of Virginia Tech.  Numerous clients lost loved ones, while others suffered severe and permanent injuries as a result of violent gunshot wounds.  While Virginia Tech was widely praised (by its own officials and from many outside sources) for its handling of the events leading to and following the tragedy, our investigation revealed substantial evidence demonstrating the University’s potential liability for gross negligence.  That evidence included the disclosure of e-mails from University personnel confirming that certain buildings had gone into lockdown following the murders in West Ambler Johnston and prior to the onset of the larger massacre at Norris Hall, and that University personnel had been warned to stay off campus before Cho opened fire at Norris Hall.  As well, the evidence revealed that the University Policy Group revised the e-mail correspondence ultimately sent out at 9:26 a.m., removing references to the facts that one student had died and another was in critical condition at an area hospital as a result of gunshot wounds suffered in a dormitory room.

Read More

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Virginia Hazing Case: Estate of Deceased College Student v. Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity.

Represented the family of a freshman at Old Dominion University who aspirated on his vomit and died following the fraternity’s hazing during Big Brother/Little Brother night.  At the beginning of that evening, four fraternity pledges sought to satisfy the requirements for obtaining membership.  By the end of that evening, all four had lost consciousness from alcohol intoxication.  The Client died later that morning, and another pledge was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.  Discovery in the case uncovered the local chapter’s “Top 100” list of fraternity memories, and 11 of the top 12 memories involved drinking or puking from alcohol.  The Washington Post featured this incident in an article focusing on the prevalence of these types of fatalities in college.  The family accepted a substantial financial settlement prior to trial, which also included non-monetary terms designed to forever change the chapter, its alcohol policies, and prevent hazing death.  More about this case can be read here.

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Virginia Personal Injury: Client v. Band, Landlord, and Numerous Others.

Represented a young man who sustained a traumatic brain injury and other extensive injuries when he and four others were pushed out of a third-story window at a music concert at “Solar Haus” in Blacksburg, Virginia. For some 20 or so years, Solar Haus had been holding crowded, commercial concerts despite the fact that it was built and zoned exclusively for residential use and lacked a public hall permit.  During the concert, which was held on the third floor of the apartment, part of the audience was encouraged to mosh by the band, and this continued without control by the concert’s sponsors.  The group of moshers stumbled into the Client and four or so other attendees who were standing away from the moshing at the back of the room.  The Client fell back against a mattress that was apparently covering a window so that noise from the concerts did not disturb neighboring residential properties. The window frame broke away, and the Client and four others fell three stories onto concrete.  One person died from the fall.  The litigation was settled prior to trial against all defendants for a substantial sum of money. Media coverage of this case can be viewed here.

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Virginia Sexual Assault: John Doe, a Minor v. Unidentified Military Academy et al.

Represented a family in civil claims resulting from numerous sexual assaults of a minor student by a superior cadet.  The cadet was able to gain access to the student’s dorm room by virtue of the authority conveyed upon him through the private military academy’s chain of command.  A substantial, confidential financial settlement was obtained for the young victim and his mother shortly after litigation was filed.  The cadet who inflicted injuries on my client was incarcerated.

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