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Oklahoma University fraternity sued over alleged hazing incident

The exterior of the now-banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity’s house on Pennsylvania State University’s campus in State College, Pa., on  Sept. 8. (Centre Daily Times via AP)
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When he was an 18-year-old freshman pledge at the University of Oklahoma, Blake Novacek said fraternity members blindfolded him and later forced him to watch videos of hogs being slaughtered. They then hit him in the stomach with a baseball bat, causing him to fall, hit his head and lose consciousness, all because the school lost a football game, according to a recent lawsuit.

Novacek, the son of former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek, is suing the Gamma Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi, its parent organization Beta Theta Pi and two of the fraternity’s members in Tulsa County Court, claiming the alleged hazing incident led to brain damage.

The fraternity denies the allegations.

“While we are mystified by the plaintiff’s motivations, we do firmly believe that the subject allegations are false and that the suit’s claims are entirely without merit,” Zach Allen, president of Beta Theta Pi Corporation of Oklahoma, told the Tulsa World. “We are offended by the allegations, we intend to vigorously contest this action by all legal means at our disposal, and we are confident of vindication.”

The lawsuit is among a string of high-profile allegations of hazing incidents involving fraternities. This week, Southern Methodist University in Dallas suspended a fraternity for hazing students. Last month, a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge died after a “potential hazing incident,” police said. And the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University was banned after a student fell and died after an alcohol-related hazing ritual in February.

LSU freshman dies after ‘potential hazing incident’ at fraternity, police say

The Oklahoma lawsuit stems from an alleged incident that took place after the University of Texas beat Oklahoma 24 to 17 in a daytime football game in Dallas on Oct. 10, 2015.

According to the lawsuit, sometime after midnight, Beta Theta Pi members called its pledges to the fraternity house, where about 100 members and alumni had gathered. Some of these members placed a pillowcase over Novacek’s head and brought him to the room of fraternity member Shane Muselmann. He showed the pledge videos of hogs being slaughtered, then asked him to recite facts about the fraternity, the lawsuit says.

When Novacek couldn’t recall a specific fact, Muselmann allegedly “became enraged” and swung a baseball bat into the pledge’s stomach. Novacek then fell back, hit his head on something hard, and lost consciousness, according to the lawsuit.

“He was carted down to the basement and put on a couch and sat unconscious for 10 hours with no medical help,” Christopher Cooke, one of Novacek’s attorneys, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

When Novacek regained consciousness, Gavin Martindale, another member of the fraternity, allegedly threatened him, claiming the fraternity would ruin his reputation, damage his things and get him kicked out of school, if he told anyone about the hazing incident, the lawsuit said.

Months later, Novacek met with an unnamed fraternity member who asked him not to file a hazing report, the lawsuit said. The next day, someone vandalized Novacek’s car, the lawsuit stated.

“The reason they were being hazed on that particular evening? OU had lost to the University of Texas,” Cooke told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They decided to haze the boys because OU lost.”

The lawsuit said Novacek suffered a “traumatic brain injury” when he hit his head, but it didn’t offer further explanation.

Muselmann said the lawsuit came as a “surprise.”

“The allegations against me are completely false, and I have no idea why they are being made,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in an email. “My family is hiring an attorney, and I intend to aggressively fight this suit and defend my reputation.”

Martindale referred the newspaper to his lawyer, who did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

Beta Theta Pi told WFAA in a statement that it is investigating the allegations, which “local alumni and undergraduate leaders” at Gamma Phi “deem to be unfounded and without merit.”

“Active litigation prohibits specific commentary on the matter, but Beta Theta Pi’s position on hazing is unequivocal and unwavering: it is not condoned and it will not be tolerated, ” the fraternity continued.

University of Oklahoma spokesman Rowdy Gilbert declined a request from the Associated Press to comment on the lawsuit, since the litigation was pending. He said: “The university investigates every report of a violation of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Code.”

Read the Oklahoma lawsuit

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