Parties in JSU fraternity hazing suit to handle case out of court
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
May 31, 2013 | 10317 views |  0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A lawsuit stemming from a 2011 hazing incident involving a Jacksonville State University fraternity will be handled out of court, according to court records filed Friday.

According to those records, the plaintiff, Jason Horton, and the defendants, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, its JSU chapter and fraternity officials, have agreed to mediation.

Michael Petway, Horton’s attorney, said the agreement gives all parties involved 30 days from Friday to agree on a mediator and 30 days after that to set up the mediation.

According to his complaint, Horton alleges that fraternity pledges in 2011 were made to drink mustard and vodka, struck with eggs and flying objects, and beaten repeatedly with fists and paddles. The next morning, according to the court document, Horton vomited all day and was discouraged by fraternity members from seeking medical treatment. Horton remained in a hospital for 24 days while recovering from his injuries.

JSU has since closed the university’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Douglas Fierberg, a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in cases of hazing, said by phone Friday that by mediating, both parties agree to “see if they can reach a settlement.”

There would be no “mini-trial” as there would be in arbitration, Fierberg said, though according to the agreement, if a settlement cannot be reached through mediation by the end of August, the case will be handled in arbitration.

Fierberg said for a plaintiff, mediation can be an “opportunity to reduce the expenses and get some closure on the matter and move forward.”

An attorney for the defendants filed a motion Sept. 14, 2012, asking the court to dismiss Horton’s case and refer it to arbitration.

The motion states that “Horton’s official application for membership and Membership Intake Process Memorandum of Understanding also contained a provision requiring binding arbitration of any potential disputes between Horton and the fraternity”

It goes on to state that “Horton is bound by his unambiguous agreement to arbitrate his claims against the fraternity, the chapter, Dye and Johnson.”

The motion states that by signing the arbitration agreement, Horton has to abide by “The Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association,” which state that parties can “At any stage of the proceedings...agree to conduct a mediation.”

On May 17, Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones ruled in favor of the defendants’ motion that the matter be handled outside of a trial, thereby placing the matter in mediation, an initial step in the arbitration process.

In a criminal case stemming from that same hazing incident, a hearing has been set to consider consolidating the cases against each of the 18 defendants into one case. A hearing is set for June 4 to consider that option.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Weems filed a motion May 1 to consolidate those cases. Reached by phone Friday, Weems declined to comment on the case.

In her motion, Weems cited a portion of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, which states that multiple cases can be consolidated if the alleged offenses are “of the same or similar character,” “occurred simultaneously,” or are “alleged to have been part to a common scheme or plan.”

By trying the cases together, Weems’ motion states, “the expenses of and time consumed in the trial will be materially reduced.”

Attorney Victor Spencer represents several of the defendants in the hazing incident. Spencer said he has been in discussion with Weems about reaching a deal in the case, but declined to comment further.

“We are talking, but I’d rather not comment on it any further until such period has passed,” Spencer said.

“Plea deals occur very often,” Fierberg said, speaking of hazing cases. “But rarely as an across-the-board situation. In many circumstances, the specific individual’s involvement differs.”

Across-the-board plea deals might be more likely in instances when there are numerous defendants, as in this case, Fierberg said.

“Distinguishing between who exactly did what, versus it was all group perpetrated, may make a larger plea deal more likely,” he said.

Four men pleaded guilty May 21 to one count each of hazing, a misdemeanor, on charges stemming from the hazing incident.

Justavious Quintae Johnson, 22, of Jacksonville; Juston Thomas, 23, of Birmingham; Mikel Whitter, 23, of St. Louis; and Varian May, 28, of Oxford, each pleaded guilty.

Weems’ motion also lists those four men as part of the case consolidation.

Others charged in the case, who each face one count of first-degree assault and two counts of hazing, include:

— Jeremiah Antwon Bradford, 24, of Harpersville

— Brandon Marquell Bush, 23, of Phenix City

— Fidel M. Corfah, 23, of Lawrenceville, Ga.

— Daniel Dwayne Covington, 23, of Fairfield

— Juston Patrick Daniel, 23, of Jacksonville

— Antonio Davis, 28, of Montgomery

— Quintin Deandrae Day, 27, of Anniston

— Adeoye Faleti, 23, of Jacksonville

— Jacolby Quantel Parks, 24, of Atlanta

— Benjamin Puckett, 23, of Jacksonville

— Carl Robinson, 22, of Jacksonville

— Rhyan Anthony Swanson, 24, of Jacksonville

Each charged with one count of hazing:

— Roosevelt Morgan Jr., 21, of Leeds

— Jeremy Deshaun Potts, 21, of Tallasse

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
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