Grand jury: Criminal charges warranted in death of 20-year old Florida State University fraternity pledge

The presentment establishes a timeline and how the 20-year old Coffey, a junior and a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, died of alcohol poisoning with a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy.  Florida State University President John Thrasher responded to his death three days later by indefinitely suspending its fraternities and sororities.  Coffey was a junior and a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi. He died Nov. 3 after he was found unresponsive after a party.

The party introduced pledges to their big brothers and included drinking large amounts of liquor straight from the bottle. The presentment says Coffey consumed a bottle of bourbon he was given. He passed out and was described as “snoring loudly” on a couch in the living room while others played pool.  A fellow pledge tried to awaken Coffey the next morning and found he didn’t have a pulse. Phone records show the pledge called and texted five fraternity members before calling 911.

Lack of cooperation by fraternity members was cited as a reason for convening the grand jury. Tallahassee Police Investigator Dan Copelin said that 19 of 41 pledges, 22 of 38 fraternity brothers and seven of nine members of the fraternity’s executive council refused to be interviewed.

“The fraternity members were very careful about how they characterized their behavior on the night in question,” the grand jury says in its report. “Many of the witnesses’ testimony appeared rehearsed as if they were speaking off a ‘script.’ They presented many of the same answers as each other and volunteered much self-serving information without being asked.”

“Even as we are heartbroken, we are also troubled. Troubled that our son died alone in a room full of people,” Sandy Coffey said in a statement that was part of the report. “Accountability is a tough word, but perhaps it is time for accountability.”  Thrasher in a statement Tuesday expressed his frustration with the lack of information and cooperation by those who were at the party.

The grand jury did find that although Coffey’s alcohol consumption was not physically forced, an environment of hazing existed that culminated in his death.  Three days after Coffey’s death, Florida State quickly responded by indefinitely suspending its fraternities and sororities.

The grand jury has recommended refresher training courses on hazing and binge drinking, amending the Student Code of Conduct to require that students cooperate during an investigation and a “Community Scorecard” to measure the performance of fraternities, including grade point averages, service hours, and on- or off-campus incidents.

“Working together with our students and other stakeholders, we have made much progress toward our goals during the past six weeks. However, today’s grand jury report confirms we still have much work to do,” Thrasher said in his statement.

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