ATO faces suspension, appeal pending

Photo by Noah Bryant

Following an investigation conducted by the Georgia Tech Police Department and Office of Student Integrity into events that transpired in the spring semester of 2017, the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity was issued a notice of suspension on Friday, Aug. 25.

The fraternity is currently in the process of appealing this suspension.

Months earlier, on March 9 just after 3 a.m., two GTPD officers arrived at the ATO house in response to a broadcast on the Atlanta Police Zone 5 radio that advised that there was a possible fight in progress.

The victim, a brother in the fraternity, told the officers that he was involved in a verbal fight over group text with a fellow fraternity brother, who later “kept asking which room he lived in and threatened to come into his room and stab him with a knife,” according to the GTPD report of the incident.

The officers spoke with who they determined to be the aggressor, who was intoxicated and visibly upset. This student claimed that he made the threats because he was upset by homophobic remarks made by the other student. The aggressor told the officer that “he felt like if anyone should go to jail, it should be him.”

Upon inspection of the group chat, the officer saw the conversation that had instigated the incident. One brother called the other a “bitch,” who replied with “I got called a bitch by a dude who wore a crop top last night.” The officer thought that this was possibly the homophobic remark the aggressor was referring to.

Despite the victim’s attempts to end the conversation, his intoxicated fraternity brother continued to make remarks such as “I will stab you between the ribs,” “I’m sorry,” “I won’t stab,” “Just a slash.”

The student who made the threatening statements was issued a student conduct code violation for “behavior that endangers any person(s), including self,” and was charged with one count of terroristic threats. The victim declined to press charges.

The morning after the incident occurred, ATO’s Judicial Board held an internal review in order to understand what had happened and determine a course of action. They placed the aggressor on temporary suspension and social probation for a longer period of time.

The internal board obtained eyewitness accounts of the night’s events corroborate the narrative included in the police report.

According to a transcript of the fraternity’s internal review, the two individuals involved in the fight had a history of not getting along and regularly engaging in verbal altercations. The aggressor had been drinking on his night out, and upon his return to the ATO house, grabbed two knives so that the pair could fight each other. He began banging on the door of the brother he intended to fight. Another brother was able to eventually get the knives from him.

ATO’s judicial board chose not to immediately expel the aggressor because they did not believe he had any true intention to harm his fraternity brother, and because his “actions that night were seen as a symptom of a larger problem concerning his mental health”, according to notes from their judicial board meeting. They mandated a zero-tolerance sobriety policy for the individual.

Both brothers were allowed to remain living in the fraternity house, but the one that was the victim in the incident eventually moved out because he felt unsafe.

In March, the fraternity was placed on interim suspension by the Office of Student Integrity (OSI)  and ordered to cease all social activities. On April 26, the fraternity was notified that OSI would be launching an investigation into the events that had transpired over a month earlier.

ATO was investigated by the Undergraduate Judiciary Cabinet (UJC) rather than an administrator.

The investigation revealed that the two fraternity brothers had been at odds for quite some time, and regularly had public, verbal altercations about various topics, such as social issues, personal choices, and the actions of each other. It also revealed that the fraternity had not gone through the appropriate channels to notify leadership following the incident. Neither Institute officials nor the national headquarters of the fraternity were notified about the incident in a timely manner.

In general, past student conduct code violations are considered in investigations conducted by OSI. ATO was placed on disciplinary probation in 2013 for a drug-related charge and for the operation of an illegal basement “pledge bar.”

UJC concluded that the fraternity had truly violated the student conduct code and was “found responsible due to a culture allowing bullying and antagonistic behavior to exist without any proper mediation and confrontation measures,” according to their official recommendations. Officials from OSI reviewed and accepted this recommendation.

The fraternity was notified that it was to be placed on disciplinary suspension effective Aug. 25, 2017 until Aug. 3, 2018. ATO was given five days to file an appeal to John Stein, vice president of student life and dean of students. If Stein upholds the decision of OSI, the fraternity can then appeal to Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. The Board of Regents will hear any further appeals.

ATO is currently in this appeals process.

OSI could not comment on the investigation because it remains in progress.

Pablo Ortega, the president of ATO, did not respond to requests for comment.

The individual who was accused of making terroristic threats refused to comment.