Black fraternity, police officer face million-dollar lawsuit
By Khari Arnold, Special to NNPA from Howard University News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kappa Alpha Psi, one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious Black fraternities, is facing multi-million dollar lawsuits for hazing, the latest by a 45-year-old Washington man who claims he was paddled and beaten with a cane by members, including a Prince George’s County police officer.
Harry Draughn Jr., filed a $2 million lawsuit on March 31 against Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and its member, police officer Jesse Stewart Jr., after allegedly being hazed during a spring 2015 pledge of the Hyattsville/Landover Alumni Chapter of the fraternity, according to court documents.
Kappa Alpha Psi is already facing a four million dollar lawsuit filed against its Baltimore alumni chapter and several members in January for allegedly hazing another man.
As a result of the new law-suit, Stewart, 49, who served as the dean of the intake process for the Hyattsville/Landover alumni chapter, has been charged with a misdemeanor and suspended pending an investigation, Prince George’s County Police Chief Mark Magaw said.
“When one of our officers is accused of wrongdoing, we take those allegations seriously,” Magaw said in a statement. “The Prince George’s County Police Department holds our officers to high standards, whether they are on or off duty.”
Stewart, a 21-year member of the police department, faces up to five years in prison on misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges.
Court documents state the hazing began in February when Draughn and his line brothers were brought to Stewart’s garage to be smacked, hit, caned and paddled.
Pledges were also brought inside Stewart’s home, where they rubbed lotion on the off-duty officer as he sat in a kitchen chair, according to the complaint. Draughn also claims he was required to do tasks around Stewart’s home in his underwear.
Draughn’s suit claims he suffered emotional anguish and humiliation.
“I think it’s just degrading,” Draughn said in an interview. “When we signed up for Kappa Alpha Psi, we signed documents saying there wouldn’t be any hazing.”
Draughn also said Stewart asked him inappropriate sexual questions.
In September of 2014, the fraternity placed a national moratorium on membership intake for its undergraduate and alumni chapters amid hazing issues. The moratorium was lifted in January for graduate chapters.
“When they lifted it, they did not change any policies or procedures,” said Draughn’s attorney, Jimmy Bell. “That is mind-boggling. You admit that you have a problem and you don’t correct it, and then the very next month my client’s getting hazed.”
Stewart, the Kappa Alpha Psi headquarters in Philadelphia, the Kappa Alpha Psi Grand Polemarch (National President) William “Randy” Bates Jr. did not return phones calls seeking comment.
Draughn alleges that Stewart first hazed him in February, but it was a March 23 incident that caused him to file suit.
“Since the beating on March 23, 2015, plaintiff has had to sit on a pillow while driving and is suffering from lower back pain, has not been able to sleep and has felt depressed,” the lawsuit claims.
After he’d had enough, Draughn said that he complained to the fraternity and asked that the $3,000 he paid to join the organization be refunded, but his request was denied.
“We never thought that we were paying $3,000 to join a gang,” he said. “That’s not what we signed up for.”
Bell is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and endured hazing when he joined nearly 30 years ago. Things, however are different today when it comes to beating pledges as part of the initiation process, he said.
“Here’s the difference between now and then: It is against the law,” he said. “I’m doing what’s right so hopefully they’ll still be around in the next 50 years. It’s better to take a (financial) hit and change your policies than to not exist anymore.”
Bell said he believes that until the better measures are put in place by leaders of fraternities and other organization, injuries, deaths, like the one at Florida A&M University, and subsequent lawsuits will continue to happen.
“It’s a social organization,” he said. “Nobody should get hurt pledging.”