Cover Story: UH Grad Sues African-American Fraternity Omega Psi Phi for Alleged Hazing

Lee West III, a University of Houston junior and Omega Psi Phi pledge, says that during underground pledging meetings for the African-American fraternity (which turns 100 years old next month) in February 2009, he was beaten with a television antenna, a paddle and a broomstick that eventually broke in two.

Not once, not twice but four times, says West III.

As chronicled in this week's cover story, Lee III would eventually visit the emergency room, where, according to medical records, hospital personnel diagnosed Lee with internal bleeding. Lee West Jr., Lee's father and 30-year member of Omega Psi Phi, was distraught and tried to seek answers from his fellow fraternity brothers. Instead, he says that he was ignored.

In April 2010, West Jr. filed a lawsuit in Harris County civil court. Along with claims of human brutality, Ayesha Mutope-Johnson, who is representing the West family, says the fraternity employed a "cover-up" during a follow-up investigation. (The defendants and the fraternity have denied the allegations. Attempts at reaching these parties were unsuccessful.) During that internal investigation, two pledges who were with West III during the underground meetings each told Omega Psi Phi investigators that they were not hazed.

Fraternity and sorority hazing, according to Dr. Rodney Cohen, an assistant dean and director of Yale University's Afro-American Cultural Center, is a phenomenon that has plagued Greek organizations for decades. Recent court cases back that claim.

In December 2009, the parents of Tyler Cross, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge, won a $16.2 million wrongful death settlement from the fraternity following Tyler's 2006 death. Witnesses in the trial testified that Cross had fallen from a fifth-story balcony after fraternity members made the then University of Texas at Austin freshman drink overwhelming amounts of alcohol.

In the 1990s, Omega Psi Phi lost a court case after Joe Snell, a University of Maryland student and Omega Psi Phi pledge, testified that frat members had put a heater in front of his face because Snell wasn't "black enough."

Lee III, who's now 23 and on track to earn a graduate degree from the University of Texas at Dallas, will get his shot at justice in a courtroom in April. Meanwhile, he's still bothered by what he claims to have gone through at the private homes of Omega Psi Phi members.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen