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SAE brothers at OU facing death threats, assaults, lawyer says

Posted at 12:25 AM, Mar 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-14 00:25:44-04

NORMAN, Okla. — Some of the 100 fraternity brothers of the now-disbanded Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma have received death threats after the release of a video in which a racist chant was heard, a lawyer for the chapter’s board said Friday.

Attorney Stephen Jones said other members of the former chapter of the fraternity have been physically assaulted, though he wouldn’t go into specifics.

Jones told a news conference that he had been retained by the board of trustees — the alumni advisers for the chapter — “to assist them in evaluating certain legal issues and other matters that may impact local chapter of SAE.”

There are no plans right now to sue the university, which shut down the chapter’s house and disbanded the SAE chapter, he said. The national chapter of SAE also revoked the OU chapter’s charter.

The school also expelled two members of the fraternity, but Jones said he is not representing them.

Jones said the actions on a nine-second video that showed some members yelling a racist chant that included a reference to lynching were inexcusable.

There was “no justification for what occurred. Zero,” he said.

Jones said he is involved to protect the due process and First Amendment rights of members.

The fraternity’s national office said it is investigating the incident in the video to see if it needs to take action against any of the students.

“We are committed to following the due diligence and protocols that we have set forth in our fraternity laws,” the national SAE office said after the news conference, “as they are designed to enable us to make deliberate, thoughtful decisions that reflect our commitment to our standards and to our members.”

The office also has said it was looking into incidents involving other chapters.

“Several other incidents with chapters or members have been brought to the attention of the headquarters … and each of those instances will be investigated,” the national office said in a statement.

It said some of the incidents date back more than 20 years.

Controversy at another SAE chapter

Another chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is under fire over alleged racial slurs — this time in Seattle.

University of Washington students are accusing fraternity members of offensive comments during a protest to raise awareness about racism last month.

“People were called monkeys and apes by members of SAE,” said Maggie Negussie, president of the university’s Black Student Union.

SAE’s university chapter denied the allegations, saying an investigation determined the culprits were not members of the fraternity.

An investigation into the “grossly insensitive comments” is underway, said Denzil J. Suite, the university’s vice president for student life.

The university is gathering information to determine who was behind the remarks, but a preliminary report by some students accused the SAE fraternity, according to Suite.

“If and when we can determine what occurred, we will take appropriate steps,” he said.

About 1,000 people were marching across the street from the fraternity house when the incident occurred, Negussie said. She said the marchers opted to ignore the offensive words.

“At that time it was more important to continue marching … but that is not the only time,” she said. “There are many of us who have those stories.”

Searching for evidence

Negussie also accused the University of Washington fraternity of not allowing black students at its parties.

When CNN asked for videos or photos, she said members are reaching out to witnesses.

Michael Hickey, president of the fraternity’s university chapter, said the chapter was notified of the protest incident on February 25 — the same day it happened.

“We were naturally concerned and shocked by these allegations, as we pride ourselves in the diversity of our chapter membership and racism is against the moral ethics of our local and national organization,” he said in a statement.

SAE: Fraternity members not involved

However, he said, an investigation determined that fraternity members were not behind the insults. The culprits were on a nearby sidewalk and not on the fraternity house property, he said.

“We have determined this due to eyewitness accounts from our members viewing nonmembers of SAE yelling offensive comments on the sidewalk near our chapter house,” he said.

He asked witnesses to come forward and pledged to punish any members found to have been involved.

“We continue to seek any information or eyewitnesses to the incident,” he said.