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On April 21, DeShawn Scoggins, a 23-year-old Arkansas Tech University student, was taken to a Kappa Alpha Psi (KAP) fraternity meeting in the garage of a Russellville residence and beaten with a wooden cane and paddle so severely that he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, according to an affidavit issued by the Pope County prosecutor's office. Scoggins' kidneys stopped functioning, he had fluid in his lungs, and doctors placed him in a medical coma. He didn't leave the hospital for another three weeks.
As a result, Arkansas Tech kicked its three-member chapter of KAP off campus, and on Aug. 22 and 24, three men, Deonte Bradley, 22; Stephen Bender, 24; and Calvin Williams, 26, were arrested and charged with second degree battery, which carries up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
But a lawyer for Bradley, Bender and Williams said that the Pope County affidavit erred in the date of the meeting — that it was April 17, not April 21, and that on April 18, Scoggins attended class and football practice and played in a scrimmage game. (The State Police called it a transcription error.)
There are other messy parameters — primarily that Scoggins and Bradley are cousins, fellow football players and close friends. When Scoggins had nowhere to live, Bradley took him in, paid rent and bought his groceries for four months. As soon as Bradley heard about Scoggins' hospitalization, he drove to Little Rock and spent hours at Scoggins' bedside. Even now, Scoggins mourns the broken relationship. "At the end of the day, no matter what, Deonte will forever be my family. ... We hung out on a day to day basis ... just talking about life and success and what it takes to get there. That's all it was, we just talked, mentored each other," Scoggins said.
On the evening of April 17, Scoggins willingly went with Bradley and a group of fraternity brothers, and he agreed to wear a hood over his face. Police aren't releasing many details about the ongoing investigation, but the affidavit does note that Bradley organized the KAP meeting, arranged to use a friend's garage and, prior to the meeting, texted Scoggins: "Absolutely no breaking the cut nor screaming tonight. That shit will make us look bad." At the time, Bradley was president of the Tech chapter of KAP.
According to the affidavit, "DeShawn had heard that this [paddling] was part of the initiation process for the fraternity. He did not, however, know that the beating would be so severe." It also states that, on the morning after the fraternity meeting, Scoggins "was not feeling well ... during the evening meal he began throwing up," and shortly after, he was admitted to UAMS.
"[Scoggins] was hit hard in a football scrimmage, a day after whatever happened to him on April 17," Marion Humphrey, who represents Bender, Bradley and Williams, told the Times in an interview. "He went to the hospital on the 19th. So whatever happened on the 17th did not cause him to go to the hospital. ... Our contention is that he was injured at football on April 18," said Humphrey.
Steve Mullins, Arkansas Tech director of athletics, reviewed a video of the day's scrimmage and determined that there was nothing to suggest that Scoggins was injured during football. Arkansas Times has also reviewed the video. In a few plays, Scoggins blocks and once takes a hit and is dragged to the ground. He gets up immediately, and nothing about the play appears extraordinary. Scoggins remembers the tackle — "It wasn't a hard hit," he said. But after the tackle, at least three players say that Scoggins sat out the rest of the game.
The criminal trial of Bradley, Bender and Williams is scheduled for Sept. 24. Scoggins still doesn't know what the out-of-pocket costs will total for his UAMS stay, but he has sought legal help and is considering suits against the national organization, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., as well as his individual assailants. The relationship between cousins Bradley and Scoggins is likely to be mined by the defense.
Humphrey maintains that Bradley never laid a hand on Scoggins. "Battery is a criminal action, and Deonte is not guilty of battery on anybody. And there are no allegations that he's even hit anybody ... we have not heard from DeShawn on any allegations," he said. But Scoggins has tried to contact Bradley, as recently as last Tuesday, via a series of friendly texts that Humphrey has advised Bradley to ignore, because at the preliminary hearing, the judge issued a no-contact order.
"DeShawn isn't sure what went on," said Scoggins' attorney, Tony Walker. "We know that he was blindfolded and he was beaten severely with canes. There were a lot of people, a lot of canes and a lot of abuse. Any implication that DeShawn can say exactly what happened to him is ridiculous. But let's say, for instance that Deonte actually didn't lay a hand on him. If he facilitated the whole thing, what difference does that make?"
"I don't think anyone can argue that Deonte had no role in this," Walker said. "The prosecutor charged him and picked him up first."
Following his arrest, Bradley was expelled from Arkansas Tech for breaking an anti-hazing clause in the school's code of conduct. (Bender and Williams were students at the University of Central Arkansas in April, but are no longer.) "It's urgent for my client to have the opportunity to go before a disciplinary committee and not be thrown out of school," Humphrey said. "He has only 15 hours that he needs to graduate [with a B.S. in psychology and criminal justice]. ... He wasn't even given an opportunity to show up and be heard by the university," Humphrey said.
Bradley missed his preliminary disciplinary conference because he was being held by the Pope County sheriff's office. He did not attend the second hearing, because Humphrey requested that the school reschedule the preliminary conference first. Humphrey wonders why Arkansas Tech didn't discipline Scoggins, as well. "The fact of the matter is that DeShawn Scoggins is still in school at Arkansas Tech ... why is he in school, if he also participated in hazing?" he said. According to a report by a Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. investigator, there were 16 people present at the fraternity meeting, including five Tech students. Thus far, Bradley is the only Tech student charged in the case.
This isn't the first bad press that KAP chapters have received, and the traditional "kappa cane" seems to play a frequent role in hazing cases. Since the fraternity's inception in 1911, the "kappa cane" has been carried as a mark of stature, and in more recent decades as a prop in step-dancing performances. But in 2012 alone, KAP members at the University of Florida, at Ohio's Youngstown State University, at Texas's Jarvis Christian College and at Florida A&M have been charged or investigated for beating pledges with canes. In 2011, KAP members at California State–Bakersfield were charged with beating pledges with canes and shooting them with BB guns and a pellet pistol. In 2010 Eric Walker, a Wayne State University student, sued Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. after a paddling put him in the hospital with kidney failure. Scoggins is the third KAP pledge in as many years to claim kidney damage from these beatings.
According to Walker, there have been no disciplinary actions from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. against the men who allegedly participated in the hazing. "The fraternity was going to have some sort of hearing, but I heard that, subsequent to our not having Mr. Scoggins appear, that frustrated that. ... It's our position that DeShawn needs to get his case handled first, and also he should not be subjecting himself to any disciplinary action for participating in hazing when he was the hazee," said Walker. At least nine KAP chapters remain on Arkansas college campuses.
Whether or not Scoggins' injuries were accidental, Walker emphasizes that they were life-threatening. "Doctors thought he would not make it ... if he were not a superstar athlete, he most likely would have died," Walker said.