Police announced Tuesday that two Drake students have been charged with hazing – a serious misdemeanor in Iowa – in connection with the hospitalization of first-year Nate Erickson for alcohol poisoning Sunday.
Junior Skylar Otto and sophomore Joseph Hatchett, both members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, were charged with the crime and have been released.
Sgt. Lori Lavorato, public information officer for the Des Moines Police Department, said they were issued citations and released on their own recognizance.
The two students will go in front of a Polk County judge within a week.
Lavorato said that if the two students are indicted, punishment could range from a substantial fine or over one year of imprisonment, since Erickson’s injury is considered serious and he could have died.
Tim Coonan, local alumni representative, said Tuesday that three Phi Delta Theta fraternity members were suspended for their involvement in last weekend’s events, pending a further investigation. Coonan did not release the names of the students.
“As a result of the first steps of the investigation, the national fraternity determined that the role they played in whatever happened this weekend rose to the level of a suspension,” Coonan said.
Coonan said that the three students have sought legal council.
Bob Biggs, executive vice president of Phi Delta Theta International, said the membership suspension came from his office. He said, pending further investigation, the students could either be reinstated or lose their membership permanently.
Biggs also said that all social events of the Drake chapter fraternity have been suspended indefinitely. Phi Delta Theta has a strict anti-hazing policy that, when broken, can also potentially lead to closing the chapter.
“We certainly do not condone their conduct and actions that were involved with Nate Erickson,” Biggs said.
Phi Delta Theta was already on social probation for a calendar semester due to fall Rush violations, a Drake Interfraternity Council member told The Times-Delphic.
Early Sunday morning, Nate Erickson was rushed to Iowa Methodist Medical Center for alcohol poisoning. Police reports indicate his blood alcohol content was nearly .500.
Medics were sent to 1311 33rd St. to find Erickson unresponsive and “nearly unable to breathe by himself,” according to the Des Moines police report. The location is a house commonly known as “The Carter” – an unofficial annex of Phi Delta Theta. However, it is not legally linked to the fraternity.
“He was not physically forced to consume the alcohol,” Lavorato said. “It was more of a case of peer pressure, where he thought that, in order to become a member, he felt it was a necessity to do so. And in the hazing code, the elements fit the crime.”
Erickson’s mother, Jacqueline Nickerson, told police that Erickson sent out text messages “stating that ‘they’ were making me do full cups of Everclear and that he had already done five beer can shots,” the police report states. “He even stated that ‘I’m gonna die.’”
Lavorato said that Otto and Hatchett were cooperative with police and helpful to the investigation.
“They were very forthcoming and came in and spoke with us,” she said.
Biggs said Erickson wants to resume classes as soon as possible. The Times-Delphic has learned that Erickson was, in fact, on campus Tuesday with his parents.
Nickerson, Erickson’s mother, issued a statement Tuesday evening saying she hoped coverage of the alcohol poisoning would be “a catalyst that allows students to become more educated about the power and destructiveness of alcohol,” according to the release.
“If we can prevent even one case of alcohol poisoning, then it will be worth all of this pain and struggle to see some good come out of this situation,” Nickerson said.
The mother said that she did not believe there was any intent to harm her son.
“We believe the other young men had no malicious intent,” Nickerson said. “They just made bad choices. Nate acknowledges that he also made bad choices. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people.”
Drake spokeswoman Tory Olson said that the university is aware of the recent charges filed, but did not comment any further.