Five former members of the University of Virginia men’s swim team settled a lawsuit Tuesday that stemmed from allegations that they hazed freshmen swimmers as part of an initiation rite in August 2014.
The five defendants, Kyle Dudzinski, Luke Papendick, Charles Rommel, David Ingraham, and Jacob Pearce, had been top swimmers for U-Va. before a freshman recruited to the program, Anthony Marcantonio, experienced what his lawyers described as a five-hour nightmare during “Welcome Week” that involved threats of sodomy and the forced consumption of large amounts of milk, prune juice and a live goldfish.
The lawsuit had been filed in federal court in Charlottesville, Va. In settling, the five defendants denied liability, and Marcantonio’s lawyers agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. In a joint statement, all parties to the case said the swimmers wanted to resolve it “solely to avoid further unnecessary litigation costs.” No additional details of the settlement agreement were released.
U-Va. officials suspended the five upperclassman swimmers from competition at the time the allegations surfaced, in fall 2014. Dudzinski and Papendick then transferred to the University of Michigan; Ingraham, Pearce and Rommel graduated from U-Va. in 2015. Marcantonio left the school during his freshman year and now swims for Northwestern University.
“The defendants acknowledge that the Welcome Week experience caused the plaintiff hardship and for that the defendants apologize,” the lawyers wrote in the joint statement.
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman declined to pursue charges against the swimmers after investigating the incident. Chapman told local media outlets that he decided not to prosecute the case because Marcantonio had not suffered any apparent physical injuries and because police failed to turn up evidence of a crime.
The lawyers for the five swimmers wrote in court documents that “Welcome Week” events of August 2014 were merely a continuation of an annual tradition for the men of the swim team. But what began as a night meant to forge bonds and brotherhood among the athletes descended into mayhem, Marcantonio’s lawyers wrote in their lawsuit.
The first hint of what awaited the freshmen came in an e-mail that instructed them to show up on Aug. 27 for “Welcome Week” at the Swim House, a two-story brick residence in Charlottesville that the men’s team used as an off-campus residence and site for parties.
“I am Mr. Mean, and what I say, goes,” the message began. “When I call, you come running; when I talk, you shut the f— up and listen; when I sneeze, you get on your bony knees and lick the floor spotless.”
The e-mail also included vile threats of violence against the swimmers’ loved ones and against them directly, warning that if they told anyone about the meeting or what happened at it, they would be brutalized.
When Marcantonio arrived at the appointed time, the swim house resembled a heavy metal concert, with blinking strobe lights and satanic music blaring from huge amplifiers, according to court documents. During the ensuing initiation ritual, the freshmen were marched into a bathroom. Inside, the sink, toilet lid and windows were covered with duct tape and the shower drain was clogged. According to Marcantonio’s lawsuit, the recruits were told they were to consume an array of containers of alcohol and other beverages, including beer, milk, prune juice and hard liquor. Marcantonio, who did not drink alcohol, later vomited the mixture of milk and prune juice he had been told to consume.
Afterward, the freshman was given a goldfish and instructed to eat it alive.
Lawyers representing the five upperclassmen, who allegedly organized the initiation, wrote that the defendants had been essentially keeping a team tradition alive.
“Welcome Week in 2014 mimicked in every respect what had happened in 2011, 2012 and 2013,” the lawyers wrote.
“In retrospect, Defendants acknowledge that the events of the Welcome Week tradition they inherited as swimmers at the University of Virginia included inappropriate words and actions,” the lawyers wrote in the joint statement. “Plaintiff’s actions have brought about an end to ‘Welcome Week’ activities and helped bring about cultural change on the swim team and at the University. The defendants’ actions during the Welcome Week tradition were never intended to harm the plaintiff in this matter or cause distress to him or anyone else.”