When Nicholas Mauricio arrived at Tallahassee’s Memorial Hospital on April 9, the 20-year-old Florida State University student was going in and out of consciousness. Blood from a cracked tooth trickled out of his mouth. There was a lump the size of a golf ball on the back of his head. Doctors quickly discovered that his skull had been fractured and he was suffering from multiple brain bleeds.
The fraternity brothers who had brought Mauricio, then a sophomore, to the emergency room allegedly lied to the doctors, claiming that he had fallen down stairs while playing basketball on an outdoor deck. But according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday and obtained by WTXL, Mauricio was actually the victim of hazing ritual known as “Scumbag of the Week,” a long-standing tradition at Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Phi Tau chapter at Florida State.
The ritual had once involved a game-show-style wheel, which fraternity brothers would spin to select a punishment, the lawsuit says. The chosen “Scumbag of the Week” would either have to clean the fraternity house alone, lick the floor, or be hit in the face. At some point over the years, though, they stopped spinning the wheel. Instead, the chapter would allegedly solicit nominations for “Scumbag of the Week,” then make the brother who received the most votes stand up in front of the whole fraternity and let another member slap him in the face.
On April 9, it was Mauricio’s turn.
The lawsuit alleges that Oliver Walker, who was present at the meeting despite the fact he had been deemed an “alumnus in bad standing” by the fraternity and was not enrolled at Florida State, hit Mauricio “harder than he should have and harder than he intended.” Mauricio fell to the floor and was knocked unconscious by the impact.
After his fall, Mauricio spent five days in the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit. The damage to his right frontal lobe has impaired his cognitive function, and he now suffers from memory problems, migraines, panic attacks and paranoia, according to the lawsuit. He has not returned to school.
Mauricio is now suing the fraternity for negligence, alleging that Alpha Epsilon Pi’s national leadership knew about the “Scumbag of the Week” tradition but failed to put a stop to it. Walker, 20, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, also faces charges of battery and culpable negligence, WCTV reports. He has not been arrested. Seven students on the executive board of the Phi Tau chapter at Florida State are also named as defendants.
“He’s got a terrible brain injury,” attorney David Bianchi told WTXL of Mauricio. “Under Florida law, there are a number of claims that we are going to make, which we have done and hopefully, we are going to be able to get a recovery for him that will take care of him in the future, because this has had a terrible impact on his life.”
Representatives for Alpha Epsilon Pi told the Tallahassee Democrat that the fraternity had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment.
“Alpha Epsilon Pi International has not received the lawsuit at this time and feel it would be inappropriate to provide further comment until we have the opportunity to see and review it,” spokesman Jonathan M. Pierce told the paper on Wednesday.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the news that law enforcement officials will not be pursuing criminal hazing charges in the case.
State Attorney Jack Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat last week that under Florida’s hazing statues, prosecutors have to prove that the perpetrators intended to cause injury to the victim, and that the activity was intended as an initiation or requirement for membership.
“Were they hazing under a common vernacular? Absolutely. Was this bad acting? Yes,” he told the Democrat on Sept. 4. “Is this the type of conduct I’m able to pursue criminal charges for hazing? It is not.”
It also comes at a time when Greek life at Florida State is under intense scrutiny. In November, Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died of alcohol poisoning at an off-campus party hosted by the fraternity after allegedly being coerced into drinking an entire bottle of bourbon. Immediately afterward, Florida State President John Thrasher suspended all fraternities and sororities on campus. The temporary ban was lifted in late March, just weeks before the “Scumbag of the Week” incident, WCTV reports.
Bianchi, Mauricio’s attorney, is also representing Coffey’s family in court.
The day after Coffey’s death, Florida State officials received an anonymous complaint about Alpha Epsilon Pi’s “humiliating” pledging process. According to WTXL, the fraternity was banned from campus in January after university officials investigated and found evidence of hazing. The fraternity appealed to a campus Greek conduct board, and that decision was overturned.
Mauricio’s lawsuit alleges Alpha Epsilon Pi had attempted to do damage control in February by telling selected members they would not be invited to “rejoin” the fraternity and giving them the designation of “Alumnus in Bad Standing.” Both Walker and Mauricio received the “bad standing” designation. However, Mauricio was allowed to continue living in the fraternity house. His lawsuit claims all members, regardless of their standing, were invited to the meeting on April 9.
“Obviously, Alpha Epsilon Pi International does not condone any type of physical violence towards anyone — whether intended to be humorous or not,” Pierce, the Alpha Epsilon Pi spokesman, told WTXL in August. “However, neither the young man who was injured nor the accused were brothers in good standing of Alpha Epsilon Pi. Both were tenants at the apartment complex where the meeting was held and had a right to be at the premises.”
The fraternity was suspended in April after Florida State University officials learned about the criminal investigation, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
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