TALLAHASSEE — The death of a fraternity pledge from alcohol poisoning has led to hazing charges against nine Florida State University students.
State attorney Jack Campbell filed charges on Wednesday in Leon County Court.
All nine will be charged with "College Hazing-Cause Injury or Death" in 20-year-old Andrew Coffey’s death.
Coffey, who was a junior and a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, died of alcohol poisoning on Nov. 3 after he was found unresponsive following a party the night before. The state medical examiner said Coffey had a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy.
Florida State University President John Thrasher said in a statement Wednesday that "these arrests are the first step in seeking justice for Andrew and his loved ones, and they will inform us on where we need to place our focus as we proceed. ... We hope all members and alumni of our Greek organizations are paying attention."
The Tallahassee Police Department on Tuesday night said in an emailed release that warrants were signed by a Leon County judge for Luke E. Kluttz and Clayton M. Muehlstein, both 22; Brett A. Birmingham and Anthony Petagine, both 20; and Conner R. Ravelo, Christopher M. Hamlin, Anthony Oppenheimer, John B. Ray and Kyle J. Bauer, all 21.
A Leon County grand jury last month said that it saw enough evidence for criminal charges but that the investigation was not complete. It left the decision about charges up to the state attorney’s office or a future grand jury.
The grand jury found that although Coffey’s alcohol consumption was not physically forced, "an environment of hazing" culminated in his death. The fraternity’s "Big Brother Night" party, which was held at an off-campus home, encouraged binge drinking.
The party introduced pledges to their big brothers and included drinking large amounts of liquor straight from the bottle. The presentment said 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 had no pulse. Phone records show the pledge called and texted five fraternity members before calling 911.
Ravelo was one of four fraternity members who appeared before the grand jury. The jurors also heard from 38 pledges but noted they found elements of obstructionism surrounding the case. They also took to task the lack of substance in testimony, their demeanor and attitude.
Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said Tuesday that the investigation was done with the assistance of Florida State University Police.
"This collaborative investigation was critical to finding answers for Andrew Coffey’s family and our community. Hopefully, this investigation and its outcome will prevent another tragedy from occurring," said DeLeo in a statement.
The state attorney had emailed attorneys representing the nine students on Tuesday that charges were forthcoming.
The state attorney’s office and attorneys though were unprepared for Tallahassee Police’s release.
Don Pumphrey, who represents Klutzz, said he was caught off guard by the release, but the state attorney tried to keep all parties up to date about the process.
Tallahassee Police spokesman Damon Miller said on Wednesday they treated the case like any other homicide and released the information as soon as their investigation was completed.