Probes of frat abuse of vets in Florida finds no targeting

AP News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 1:29 PM

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Investigations into a fraternity whose members are accused of mistreating wounded veterans while at a Florida Panhandle hotel have not found malicious intent, but instead a rash of bad behavior that disrupted the soldiers' retreat.

The Panama City Beach police investigation into the April incidents at the Laketown Wharf Resort found no criminal wrongdoing against Zeta Beta Tau members from the University of Florida or Emory University.

But police and other investigations did find the Warrior Beach Retreat group was subjected to frat members urinating and vomiting off of balconies. In addition, bottles and other objects were thrown from the hotel's balconies.

"It has been made apparent that certain (ZBT) members' conduct during their stay ... was inexcusable," Panama City Beach police Sgt. Eusebio Talamantez wrote in his report. "(But) it would be unfair to cast blame on the entire organization when the ... actions were perpetrated by a small group of isolated unknown individuals."

Three members of the Florida chapter were expelled from ZBT after the incidents, and both universities' chapters were suspended. UF's chapter has since been closed after threats were made following the widely publicized incident.

While UF has not released its investigation, a copy was obtained by The Associated Press. The school interviewed about a dozen of the veterans, most of whom described a scene of debauchery that ruined their retreat. UF would not comment on the investigation because it is holding a hearing this summer.

Veterans told investigators that students stole American flags, threw bottles and in one instance spilled champagne off a balcony onto a veteran's pregnant wife, the documents show. Students apologized for the champagne, but the veterans say the weekend grew more raucous nonetheless — and that urine, beer and vomit rained down on them.

A fraternity brother vomited off of a balcony "but didn't think anyone was below him," one anonymous member of ZBT's UF told the fraternity's investigator. Another admitted urinating off of his balcony "for two seconds" before another student told him to stop after noticing there were people "in the distance" below them.

Another ZBT member who attended the weekend told the investigator that someone from the Emory chapter saw a fellow ZBT brother vomit off a balcony onto a veteran's wife.

The fraternity and Panama City Beach police said there was evidence to suggest bottles were thrown from a room belonging to Emory students. One veteran sought to press criminal charges, saying the bottles landed near him.

Talamantez asked Emory's police department to interview the students, but it never happened.

"The investigation was severely hindered when the Emory University Police Department failed to cooperate," Talamantez wrote in his report. A spokeswoman at Emory did not return a call or email seeking comment.

The fraternity said in a statement that it is working to talk with the Emory students.

"We are committed to holding them accountable if we determine they were involved in this dangerous behavior," the fraternity said said.

Linda Cope, who founded the warrior group after her son lost both legs in Iraq in 2006, said she has been pleased with the fraternity and the University of Florida's actions since the incident.

Cope said she would not comment on whether she believes the fraternity members specifically targeted the veterans. She said ZBT has since donated money to her group, and its members are volunteering at the next retreat in September.

"These are all fine young men, and I trust the judgment of ZBT and the college on what to do," she said. "I'm glad no one was arrested. That was not in my heart, but I am glad that this was a life lesson being taken to heart."

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Anderson reported from Miami.

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