By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
It's 2 a.m. and an underground pledge meeting for the Omega Theta chapter of Omega Psi Phi is underway at a Third Ward home. Two University of Houston students are being asked about poetry, the Greek alphabet and the history of the African-American fraternity that can boast basketball legend Michael Jordan, civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr. and comedian Bill Cosby as alumni members.
The two pledges blow the quiz. A fraternity member rewards them with lashes across the torso, buttocks and calves with a two-by-six-inch wooden board wrapped in duct tape, an aluminum baseball bat and a TV antenna. One pledge, Jermel Kyle, struggles to remain conscious as he's repeatedly punched in the stomach. Next to him is Lee West III, a 21-year-old University of Houston junior who tries hard not to pass out.
According to West III, who's now 23 and a graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas, this pummeling in February 2009 was the fourth violent hazing incident that occurred at private residences of Omega Psi Phi fraternity members and alumni. During the first meeting, West III says that a broomstick snapped in two across the backside of his fellow pledge.
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Following the fourth and final episode, Byron Bass, West III's roommate at the time, says that Lee had to call him at four in the morning for help getting up the stairs of their apartment. "At 6 a.m., I went back into his room and he looked terrible," remembers Bass. "He appeared to be in shock and distraught. Later that day, I had to help him up with his trousers. He was practically crawling around the apartment."
In April 2010, Lee West III, his father Lee West Jr. and West III's mother Kathleen Truss (who has since died) sued the four alleged perpetrators, the off-campus Omega Theta chapter and the national fraternity, which is headquartered in Decatur, Georgia. The organization, which will turn 100 years old in November, has more than 700 chapters (including a chapter at Texas Southern University) in nine countries.
In the past two decades, Omega Psi Phi has been hampered by multiple chapter suspensions, lawsuits and settlements. A high-profile case in 1997 awarded $375,000 to former University of Maryland student Joe Snell after he testified that Omega Psi Phi members had put a heater in front of his face in order to darken his skin because he wasn't "black enough."
Now, West III and his father, a 30-plus-year member of Omega Psi Phi, are seeking justice. Dad says that he didn't file criminal charges because he trusted that he and his fraternity brothers could settle the matter outside of the courts. Instead, West Jr. explains that he was "accused of harming the fraternity through some pre-planned actions." The matter was never investigated by law enforcement.
Terrell Jewett (whom fraternity members deemed too weak to invite back for a fourth meeting) and Kyle are the other two pledges who were present during the alleged late-night beatings. They each told Omega Psi Phi investigators that they were not hazed; Ayesha Mutope-Johnson, who is representing the West family, says she thinks that Jewett and Kyle were intimidated. Jewett and Kyle could not be tracked down for this story.
In a response submitted to the court in the civil suit, the Omega Psi Phi members accused by the Wests — Chike Mordi, Michael Jackson II, Victor Oyeniyi and Kenneth Stinson — denied "each and every allegation." The fraternity, which also denied any hazing took place, has said that any injury to West III, Jewett and Kyle would have been caused "by the negligence of a third party over whom Omega had no supervision or control." (Attempts at reaching the defendants and the fraternity were unsuccessful.)
As West Jr. waits for his family's day in court, he says that many of his old fraternity brothers have either given him a hard time or ignored him. He has struggled between looking after the fraternity that he loves and defending his son.
Lee West Jr., 52, sits on a living room couch inside his spacious home in a tidy subdivision of Grand Prairie. A Bible, a copy of Esquire and magazines about airplanes and flying are organized into various piles on the light-wood coffee table.
West Jr., a lanky and laid-back aerospace engineering tool designer, spends much of his time at home creating blueprints as a successful contract employee. Today, West Jr., who pledged Louisiana State University's Theta Kappa chapter of Omega Psi Phi in 1979, attributes his prosperous life to the lessons he learned as a member of the fraternity.
When Omega Psi Phi was founded at Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1911, the fraternal organization — a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a coalition of nine African-American fraternities and sororities — became the first of its kind at a historically black college. Today, members of the tradition-deep fraternity (nicknamed "Q Dogs," "Ques" and "Sons of Blood and Thunder") often sport the group's royal purple and old gold colors as well as an omega Greek letter that's branded onto their skin.
In the 1980s and 1990s, as more reports of violent hazing surfaced, many fraternity heads publicly banned any and all hazing. As a result, physical and mental intimidation were relegated to the underground, where they're more or less impossible to prevent.
The problem with the Black Greek incidents is in the selection process. Instead of placing strangers on line, the fraternity and sorority members must know who they are getting involved with and their psychological state.This decreases the incidents. Another common problem are fraternity members pledging after a chapter has been " off the yard". Oftentimes, these pledgees don't have a clue because no old fraternity members are around and they pledge their pledgees based on hearsay protocol. An empty nest chapter is an accident waiting to happen.
Great quote by GoldenGirl "Any BAFOON can show up and get their a-- beaten. Any idiot, renegade greek can beat a pledge to the point of unconsciousness. But it takes a wise, learned, and REFINED prophyte to take aspirants who "want to be" and transform then into MEN and WOMEN that our founders can be proud of."
Sorority girl, my sister greek... I don't know if you are a member of my organization, and even if you are, I say this with all due respect : you sound crazy.
When I was an aspirant, my organization was the apple of my eye and there were few other things that I wanted at that time more than "to be". And as someone who wanted "to be", I was willing to what I had to do to make that happen -- but I had my limits (as EVERYONE should). I'm certain that the same can be said for most people who want to pledge a fraternity or sorority, so to boil it down to "no one forced you to to fill out an application".... come on now. You know it goes deeper than that. In filling out an application, I am confident that you never imagine being beaten with an aluminum bat.
This story is all-too-familiar and I believe that *this* is the reason that we have so many tee-shirt wearing greeks who are EAGER to set out a hop or a stroll -- oh, they are front and center at ever party or event -- but when it comes down to planning and implementing a community service event, the crickets begin cricketing.
What does being beaten to the point of near-unconsciousness prove? What part of the game is that? Had someone died during this incident, would, then, the story being different?
Any BAFOON can show up and get their a-- beaten. Any idiot, renegade greek can beat a pledge to the point of unconsciousness. But it takes a wise, learned, and REFINED prophyte to take aspirants who "want to be" and transform then into MEN and WOMEN that our founders can be proud of.
I agree Frat Boy.. I'm a sorority girl.. and it is what it is.. so you don't want to do or cant take, then leave.. nobody made you give them money or fill out and application... but why take everybody else down with you. I don't condone that at all... me and my LS's will be there for each other for LIFE because of our process. I think you can gain something from it that straight MIP does not offer. If I had do, I would do it all over again.(maybe) LOL Did I mention, the guys involved in this, WERE also involved in my process, and I love them all day long!!!
"me and my LS's will be there for each other for LIFE because of our process." That's part of the problem... the attachment to the small group is greater than the attachment to EVERY member of the organization. Whatever stupidity is accepted by the small group supersedes what is accepted by the larger organization. You don't care what will bring down the organization as long as your LS's don't go to jail, right?
I pledged, but we had our limits. What one wouldn't stand for, none of us stood for. Violence was not an option...It should never be an option. This is so hard because I do understand the desire for "discretion" but I also see this as the very thing that's going to cause our organizations to DIE. I see the phrase "God loves the Que's"...but in reality, if these sick things are going on in the name of this organization, it will fall. And God Almighty, will not uphold any of parts of it. Maybe not now, maybe in a few years, but it will destroy itself. Whether it be Omega, Alpha, Delta, Zeta, Iota, or Sigma, God will not allow such foul behavior to continue for long. Justice will be done, but we better start being men and women of integrity and stop thinking so highly ourselves (as though we are gods) where we think we are above the law and above what is fundamentally right. Brutalizing fellow college students for membership rights is wrong....its plain sick really. And the same goes for the other eight of our organizations; if we continue with this behavior, we'll only be in the history books. I feel like our hazing is only so we can be like the white frats anyway...similar to the old slave mentality that "what massa does is right". And subconsciously, maybe we try to imitate. We can find whatever reasons to justify this less than humane treatment, but remember that the slave owners of Africans just a century and a half ago justified why they brutalized and strategically tortured our ancestors...and our behavior doesn't make us any different from the white devils that enslaved, indoctrinated, and then bred us in said F'ed up state. We are fools to think that the treatment our ancestors endured for four hundred plus years doesn't play a part in why we continue violate each other in name of brotherhood and sisterhood...and we're bigger fools for letting it continue. We need to stop this madness. But I guess some people just like dysfunctional relationships...I just wish this dysfunction did not prevail among such a beautiful, creative, strong, and resilient people. Shouldn't we be above this culture of violence by now?? I'm ashamed...I'm appalled because I know there are people who look like who are NOT ashamed by this buffoonery. We need to reverse the curse.
I think the failure to understand is in your court, unfortunately. The intention for inception of the organization was A CAUSE worth fighting the world for, not fight each other for. The preparation for the fight is NEVER made by destroying each other, it's in building each other up!
In what Army, or group created to defend a nation from foreign threat, do you find similar actions? The physicality of boot camp is required because life is at risk on the battlefield, but on what battlefield (aside from the one in the classrooms and boardrooms) will these students be on?
Looks to me like they were so focused on beating you into perfect rote that they forgot to teach you the reason for the rite.
I am a member of a fraternity and an "honorary service organization" at a major Texas university. I say "am", because even though I graduated thirty years ago, those organizations and my fellow members - including my contemporaries, as well as those who went before me and those who followed me - are still very much a part of my life. In my fraternity, hazing involved personal servitude, extreme exercise, and mental "games", such as being kept awake for seven full days during our final initiation. In the other organization, the hazing was much more direct and brutal. I have never for a moment regretted my decision to submit to the initiation rites of these organizations. And it was solely my decision; no-one forced me. Shared adversity unquestionably leads to bonding. Ask anyone who's been through basic training or familiar with the training and education of warriors throughout history. This is particularly true of my fraternity experience. All of my closest friends are fraternity brothers. I've heard many "outsiders" remark at how unusually close we were and have remained into our "advancing years". It's no accident that our pledgeship (which was widely acknowledged to be the toughest on our campus, despite involving little physical violence and no forced eating, drinking, or similar shenanigans) led to the formation of unshakable and lasting bonds between all of us. That is what it was intended to do, and it worked. The comments below to the effect that this experience is not for everyone are right on. It's not; but it should be available to those who want to experience it and derive the benefits it has to offer. It will be interesting to see how the civil suit is resolved.
I'm a member of a different pan-hellenic fraternity. This situation, unfortunately, is an old, sad song. I don't necessarily condone hazing, but I also don't believe in willfully submitting to the hazing then turning around and suing the fraternity that YOU decided to try and join. Pledging is hard, it's supposed to be. Like someone below said, 'we want the 8, not the 80'. Pledging isn't for everybody either. If you go into it misguided, or with unrealistic intentions or expectations, this is what happens. One must remember that you're a man before anything. If these beatings were unbearable, he should have quit and left it at that. I don't believe the article mentioned him enduring any kind of permanent injuries. He tried it, it wasn't for him, he should have just walked away. He would have been much more respected had he taken that route. Now, unfortunately, this will follow him forever. This is the same guy that will go and try to turn around and sue his job or be the guy that nobody will want to associate with due to fear of him not having a strong sense of discretion. I believe strongly that he'll find that out the hard way once he leaves the college fantasy land. I wish him the best but unfortunately he's sort of hurt himself going forward.
Typo--Omega was not the "first of its kind at a historically black college," though it was the first FOUNDED at a historically black college.
Certain things are unnecessary, some things aren't though. Anyone who pledged will read this and not think there was excessive force.
Good luck to all parties involved. I hope there is justice for all parties.
I pledged, and I think that it was excessive. Potentially harming someone that you're one day going to refer to as "bruh" "frat" or "soror" is not why the organizations of the Divine Nine were created. I made it through some things that I thought would break me, but nothing to the point where I thought I was going to die. I was strengthed as a person through my process and my relationships with my big sisters. I've seen too many people destroyed by their processes instead of being built up by it and I think it will be the death of us. What confidence can you have in yourself if you are just letting someone beat you? Take a look at the people who are clamoring to be beaten by someone so they can do it to someone else ten times over. Is that who we want to give our history and our secrets to? Are these the people that deserve to walk around with our letters on their chest as our representitives to the world? I don't think so. And until all Greeks can understand this we will kill what we have worked so hard to maintain.
"Anyone who pledged will read this and not think there was excessive force."
And everybody else will. That's one of those little alarm bells for cultlike behavior.
"West Jr. did not encounter any overly violent hazing incidents while he was at LSU." Funny, the old school LSU bruhs tell quite a different tale - particularly those who experienced firsthand your version of what I guess you'd call "slightly" violent hazing... and you wonder why they give you the "cold shoulder". They ought to give your ass some neck! (BTW, did I miss the part where attempts by the Houston Press to contact them went unanswered?) Do yourself a favor, dust off that strategically placed Bible on the coffee table and turn to Romans 2:1-5.
Your .02 paralegal got that $16.2M UT money dancing in your head, huh? Well here's a tip you haven't learned out in your 30 years of service, Que - "we" 'aint "them", and UH 'aint UT.
rather surprised by the overall response here. thought it would of been a lot worse.
i don't think his father is showing his son his full support by continuing to pay dues to Omega Psi Phi. it's a story i know all too well.
He chose Omega!! We didn't choose him.. The son knew before he went to the information how the bruhz would be.. We fault his father. My son will know what he getting himself into before he join Omega..
It's sad to hear such a situation occur especially when the organization mentioned is a top notch organization. I would suggest that these students do an extensive amount of resource prior to being on line so that when they make their move to join the particular organization, they know what their in off. Truly sad to state these affairs.
The Omega Theta chapter at UH was not active in February 2009. They haven't been active in damn near 5 years, at least. Mr. West, if that really is you, the reason you did not know your son was pledging was because he was NOT pledging Omega Psi Phi. Even had he finished the "process" he still wouldn't be a recognized member. He was getting duped by 4 random dudes, who probably aren't active or still members of the frat anyway. Your suit is misguided. You need to be suing those 4 individuals. Not Omega Psi Phi nor a chapter that doesn't exist at this point. It is unfortunate your son got caught up in a renegade process and it is an issue the frat is always trying to clean up, as I am sure you are aware. But these acts were not done on behalf of Omega Psi Phi, nor the Omega Theta chapter because neither currently exist at the University of Houston nor did in February 2009. I wish you well in your quest for justice, I just hope justice is served to the proper parties.
GMoneyPi Delta, University of Okahoma1S98
One more:* Omega Theta - 51 University Center, Houston, TX 77004 (the one mentioned in the story)The Omega Psi Chi website still lists the chapter in its lists
With the internet one can check to see whether Omega Psi Phi has any chapters in Houston.
Houston has:* "Nu Phi" chapter at 77251* "Rho Beta Beta" chapter at 77001* "Tau Epsilon" chapter at 3100 Cleburne, 77004
The chapter actually at UH may have been disbanded, but the chapter attached to another school could say "we accept UH students too!"
Hee was pledged and hazed. I pledged pre 1990 and we had grad brother oversight. Still got wood, alot of hazing, people passing out, people dropped, public humiliation (above ground), sllepless nights, push-ups, waters, eggs and apples. As a lawyer it has helped me tremendously in my profession. Looking back...it was worth it. They just need to cut the paddling down and the hitting out. Also, these orgs are voluntary. Orgs with bad reps will shrink and the ones with good reps will grow.
That's strange you say that.Since most of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity chapters do operate off campus. This would mean that a lot of the aspects of the frat aren't governed by the school that doesn't mean that they don't advertise rush.
Also, if you do a simple facebook the parties involved it's obvious that they simply removed information to make this claim.
Chike Mordi was the first I looked up and it's clear that all the evidence that would associate him with the frat have been removed BUT when you look through tagged pictures and comments they clearly are in public doing the traditional marches, hand signs and other signifying gestures. Maybe since young Mordi is looking to legitimize a career as an Optometrist the Omega's are switching up the tune.
Looks like Mordi didn't unlike the Omega page on the Insight Vision Care fan page (Mordi's practice)
Another quick search through MY invitations to various events leads me to the address I suspect. They called it the Omega Mansion. hmmmm.
Facebook. Get's ya everytime.
I don't think I would want to be the defendant in a civil trial when evidence is presented of criminal wrongdoing not previously investigated.
The judge and every attorney in the room has a duty to report the crimes.
This so-called 'fraternity' needs to pull out the checkbook and ask for the amount needed before they have their day in count in front of a judge and jury of their peers.
alot of comments about "why I'm still paying dues and why i'm torn between the frat and my son. I'm not paying dues but i was to have excess to the Nat'l frats website. The wedsite would allow me to see who was suspended and why. Not torn between the frat and my son because i filed the suit. What i was torn about was making allegations that i wasn't sure about, because i didn't know my son was trying to pledge.
I don't get the whole "West Jr. is torn between his son and his fraternity" motif. Screw the frat. This is his kid. And why is he still paying dues?
The fraternity he loved so much turned beat his kid and turned their backs on both of them. Screw 'em.