Crime

Cal Poly reopens investigation into alleged sex assault at frat party

The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house on West Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo.
The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house on West Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly has reopened its investigation into an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus Pi Kappa Alpha party on Halloween night, citing new information that it has learned from a Sheriff’s Office report.

The party took place at a large house occupied by several fraternity members at 740 W. Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo.

University officials suspended the fraternity for six years in January, noting the allegation of a sexual assault and several violations to Cal Poly’s party registration policies, including attendance at a fraternity party on Halloween night by more than 400 people resulting in multiple noise complaints.

The fraternity appealed the suspension in February, but that process has been put on hold pending the new Cal Poly examination of the sexual assault allegation. Pi Kappa Alpha, known as PIKE, has denied that a sexual assault occurred and the District Attorney’s Office said it has insufficient evidence to prosecute a case.

“The new probe, which the university alerted the fraternity chapter to on March 10, puts in limbo the chapter’s appeal of an earlier six-year suspension handed down by the dean of students after an investigation into the Halloween Night party and a broader pattern of conduct issues surrounding the organization,” Matt Lazier, Cal Poly’s spokesman, said.

Lazier said the “(Sheriff’s Office) report has given Cal Poly information on the reported sexual assault to which the university did not have access during its initial investigation.”

Lazier would not say what information Cal Poly gleaned from the police report. Cal Poly declined to release the report, citing its ongoing investigation.

The Sheriff’s Office released minimal information to The Tribune: The incident report by Officer Jeremy Douglas says a rape was reported to have occurred between 11 p.m. Oct. 31 and 12:30 a.m. Nov. 1 at the fraternity address.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to give The Tribune the officer’s narrative detailing the incident investigation, citing an exemption under the California Public Records Act.

In its formal letter of appeal, the fraternity, also known as PIKE, called the sexual assault “unsubstantiated,” saying the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office did not pursue the case because of insufficient evidence and that a Cal Poly inquiry initially didn’t result in any determination of wrongdoing.

However, Cal Poly said it will thoroughly explore the incident now that it has new information.

“Sexual assault is an abhorrent action that will not be tolerated within our campus community,” Lazier said. “The university takes all such reports seriously and will thoroughly investigate this report to determine an appropriate response.”

Nicholas Lench, PIKE’s vice president, said in an email to The Tribune on Wednesday that the fraternity chapter “maintains its innocence and is fully willing to cooperate with law enforcement and/or campus officials throughout the duration of the (Cal Poly) investigation.”

According to PIKE’s appeal, Cal Poly determined the fraternity made alcohol available to minors; failed to check guest identification and verification of age; made alcohol available outside of the designated bar area; and failed to shut down the party between 9:30 and 10 p.m. as directed by the Sheriff’s Office.

In the appeal, PIKE leaders acknowledged responsibility for violating some university rules but countered that the events of Halloween night “do not represent a ‘cultural norm’” cited in Cal Poly’s Jan. 13 suspension decision.

“The reality is this was a social event, which unexpectedly grew out of control the night of, and (PIKE) didn’t have the appropriate people ensuring the safeguards were adhered to,” Lench and fraternity President Ellis Good wrote in the appeal. “It never reached the number 400 as reported, although still too many.”

The chapter also argued that the university has been inconsistent with its rulings, citing the lack of a suspension against another Cal Poly fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, after the chapter's former president was arrested.

The former fraternity president, Gear McMillan, entered a plea of no contest in February to a felony count of possessing marijuana for sale.

In January, the university put the entire Greek system on social probation, banning all parties, after a third reported sexual assault and problems with extreme intoxication.

PIKE leaders said Cal Poly’s Greek social probation came in response to “actions from several different student organizations that appear be very similar to what Iota Theta (Cal Poly's chapter) is being charged with.”

“While the chapter is not denying that issues exist and changes need to be made, it believes a six-year suspension for the alleged violations involved are overly severe,” they wrote.

They recommended the university change the sanctions to a six-month suspension and 12 months of social probation.

“During this time, we propose a significant chance in the leadership, organization and most importantly the culture of the Chapter,” the appeal states.

Cal Poly has struggled this year to try to keep fraternity behavior under control and may take additional disciplinary action against its Greek system if it finds a fraternity or sorority has a connection to a large “St. Fratty’s Day” party Saturday that resulted in multiple injuries.

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