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Ole Miss student charged in frat hazing that injured pledge

MGN Online

A University of Mississippi student faces aggravated assault charges after police said he sprayed cleaner into the mouth of a fraternity pledge during a hazing ritual.

Posted: Apr 7, 2021 11:59 AM

A University of Mississippi student faces aggravated assault charges after police said he sprayed cleaner into the mouth of a fraternity pledge during a hazing ritual, causing serious internal injuries.

Adam Peavy, a lawyer for the injured student, said the hazing took place at an Oct. 11 ceremony where pledges were supposed to receive fraternity pins at the Pi Kappa Alpha house in Oxford.

“He was blindfolded and poisoned,” Peavy said. “That's what happened.”

University police charged James Bowes Higgins with aggravated assault on Nov. 17.

A student who witnessed the incident told a university police officer that pledges were blindfolded with their neckties and made to sit in a hallway. Active members then “yelled, screamed, threw liquids and things” on the pledges, and made them squat against the wall while reciting phrases, a police report states.

The police report says Higgins, a fraternity member, “grabbed a bottle of bleach or surface cleaner and started spraying it on a few pledges. During this time, one of the pledges threw up from inhaling some of the substances in his mouth, and another one had to go to the hospital because the bleach got into his eyes.”

Peavy said someone asked his client if he wanted water but instead sprayed cleaner into his mouth, with the student swallowing “two or three gulps.” The student immediately began vomiting and went to the hospital the next day when vomiting continued.

“He hoped, he wished, he was going to get better, but it's gotten progressively worse,” Peavy said.

The lawyer said the student has suffered serious damage to his esophagus, can eat only sometimes, and then only things such as macaroni and cheese or protein shakes. The once-burly young man has lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms).

“He hasn't had a normal meal since it happened,” Peavy said, saying doctors now advise that they may have to remove a section of esophagus and relocate the student's stomach. The student is now at higher risk for cancer and other medical problems, Peavy said.

The case was first reported by the Jackson Jambalaya website.

“I am outraged by this incident, and we extend our heartfelt support and deepest sympathy to the victim,” said Charlotte Fant Pegues, Ole Miss’ interim vice chancellor for student affairs, adding in a statement that hazing will not be tolerated.

Ole Miss officials said they suspended a student in the case, although they didn't name Higgins. The fraternity's international office said the person accused of the assault was expelled from Pi Kappa Alpha. The victim is still enrolled at Ole Miss and is still a member of the fraternity.

“The Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity does not tolerate any activities that do not treat individuals with dignity and respect,” spokesperson Aranda Gehringer said.

The lawyer listed for Higgins in court records didn’t respond to a phone message and an email Tuesday.

Peavy said the family intends to sue the fraternity and possibly others. He said there is evidence that injuries were not “just an isolated incident” and said the fraternity and its members have done little to express support.

“I don't think anyone ever told the family ‘I’m sorry,'” Peavy said.

The university and the fraternity's international office said the chapter has been sanctioned, including restrictions on social activities, all new members signing an anti-hazing agreement and additional anti-hazing education.

A grand jury has yet to decide whether to indict Higgins. The next Lafayette County grand jury meeting is scheduled for June. Mickey Mallette, an assistant district attorney in Lafayette County, declined to comment.

Pi Kappa Alpha has been in the spotlight in Ohio after a pledge died in March at Bowling Green State University. School officials said members gave pledges alcohol at an off-campus event on March 4 and encouraged each to finish an entire bottle. Stone Foltz, 21, was found unconscious and died three days later. The university has suspended the chapter. Bowling Green State has said it is also investigating individual students and that law enforcement agencies could consider criminal charges.

Some Ole Miss fraternities have been closed in the past after hazing problems. Sigma Alpha Epsilon indefinitely shut down its Ole Miss chapter in 2017. Ole Miss in 2018 shut down a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha for three years.

Pi Kappa Alpha members at Ole Miss got into trouble in 2015 when they attempted to steal a donkey statue from a rival fraternity and five were arrested. Criminal charges were dropped after an injured member of the rival fraternity testified he started the fight.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20772248
Hinds19888408
Harrison17489302
Rankin13311275
Jackson13097243
Madison9895210
Lee9856169
Jones8290160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7187237
Lowndes6262144
Lamar610584
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Washington5280132
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Monroe4057132
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Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3180104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265779
Wayne261341
Leake261073
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
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Attala213273
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Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120041
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81823
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
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Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
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