Rotten to the Corps: A Question of Justice at Texas A&M

Thanks to A& M and a district attorney, two cadets escape punishment for beating in a student's face

Mask refused to allow his clients to discuss the case with the Houston Press.

"Not that my clients have anything to hide," Mask says. "They suffered too. My boys have suffered like you would not believe."

According to Mask, both Helle and Ramirez lost weight and allowed their grades to drop after the fight. They endured constant anxiety, Mask says, from the fear of criminal prosecution and punishment from the university.

Kuboviak's sole reason for dismissing the case against the cadets: "In the interest of justice."
Kuboviak's sole reason for dismissing the case against the cadets: "In the interest of justice."
John Corcoran (left) has spent the last two years pursuing his son's case.
Paul Knight
John Corcoran (left) has spent the last two years pursuing his son's case.

The hearings started several months after the fight. The university was represented by several faculty and staff, including ­Mallahan.

During the hearings, Helle and Zach each argued that the other threw the first punch. Both testified that they tried to defuse the situation and stop the fight before it ­happened.

Mallahan asked Zach, "Were you starting to get aggressive to Eddie? Did you feel like you were being aggressive?"

"I'm a really laid-back person," Zach responded. "I was being very calm and I was not being aggressive."

"Especially after you drank a lot?"

"No, I'm not a mean drunk at all," Zach said. "I don't get in fights. You ask anybody about me, I'm one of somebody's most laid-back friends."

"Do you feel that Eddie was trying to engage in a fight," asked Laura Boren, a university representative.

"Exactly," Zach said. "No doubt."

Mallahan said to Helle, "It appears like you kind of did the right thing at first, but when you had the intention to leave, why did you come back?"

"Sir, I came back to get my buddy," Helle said. "That's when he made the comment, 'Yeah, y'all better leave.' I think my pride got the best of me."

Zach told the panel about the pain the fight had caused his family, and the permanent damage he sustained to his eyesight.

"And while these kids were out playing their football," Zach said, "I was stuck isolated in my bed in excruciating pain."

Helle attempted to sway the panel as well.

"I've learned that the smallest little comment may, something so small may turn into such a big deal," Helle said. "I just know that I'll never get in a situation like this again because I've just gone through so much."

The university eventually found Helle and Ramirez guilty of physical abuse, along with several other violations of school code. The Corcorans stayed on campus until the punishment for the cadets was decided.

When the hearing concluded, Boren told the Corcorans that Helle and Ramirez had been suspended from the university for one semester and kicked out of the Corps. Furthermore, Helle and Ramirez were to make an effort to pay Zach's medical bills — which had grown to nearly $60,000 — before they could return to the university. And when they were allowed back on campus, the cadets were ordered to stay 50 feet away from Zach.

John Corcoran was thrilled, and for a short time, he was confident that the university he loved had done the right thing.

Months later, the sanctions against Helle and Ramirez disappeared.

Zach had missed the majority of the fall semester after the fight. He moved back to Corpus Christi to recover and had two surgeries to repair the bones in his face. He lost 30 percent of the movement of his eyes — permanent damage — and constantly had to wear an eye patch until another surgery could fix his double vision.

One day on campus, after Zach had returned to A&M, he saw Ramirez walking through the student recreation center. Shocked, Zach approached the cadet and asked him why he was there.

"He told me that all the sanctions against him and Helle had gone away," Zach says.

Zach called his father to tell him the news. John Corcoran had his attorney begin writing letters to the university to find out how and why the punishment had been reversed.

University officials, who had spoken to John Corcoran about the case, including Binzer and Boren, explained that they could no longer discuss anything concerning Helle or Ramirez. The main contact at A&M became Jerry Brown, a university ­attorney.

Brown only confirmed that the sanctions had been dismissed. He offered no explanation, and said that he could not discuss the case due to guidelines established by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law designed to protect students' privacy.

"I'm not ashamed of the way the university handled the situation, that's not why I'm advising them not to talk," Brown says. "It's just not in their best interest."

Bonilla constantly argued that FERPA shouldn't apply because the Corcorans wanted a reason the sanctions had been dropped, not any specific information about Helle or Ramirez.

In a letter to Bonilla, Brown wrote, "While FERPA permits the university to disclose to an alleged victim of any crime of violence, such disclosure is not mandatory. Based on my recommendation, the university declines to disclose the results in this case."

John was shocked, and Bonilla had no legal explanation to offer. Bonilla says the university operated with total disregard for its own written rules.

"Someone intervened and it just went away," Bonilla says. "And to who had enough power to do that, I don't know. It was incredible that they just said, 'We're going to erase this case.'"

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