A recent graduate of Stevenson University in Baltimore County has filed a $4 million hazing lawsuit against the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, charging that members of the historically black organization beat him so severely that he required hospital care for nearly a week.
Johnny Powell II, 22, said he was excited about being part of the fraternity’s charter class at Stevenson, a private school located in Owings Mills, about 45 miles north of Washington D.C. But what began as a trailblazing opportunity turned into weeks of beating, hazing and false imprisonment between January and March of 2013, the lawsuit alleges.
“It was a nightmare. It was traumatizing. It felt like it was modern-day slavery,” Powell said in an interview. “I didn’t know what was the meaning behind all of the beating. What was supposed to be the lesson to be learned from getting hit? They told us they wanted to break us down to build us back up.”
Cleophus Thomas, the fraternity’s general counsel, referred all questions regarding the lawsuit to the national headquarters in Philadelphia. Calls to those offices were not returned Tuesday afternoon.
The hazing lawsuit is the second to be filed against a regional fraternity recently. Last month, a Bowie State University student filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, alleging that he was abused and harassed while being hazed as a pledge in the fall of 2013. Kevin Hayes, 20, says he was slapped and paddled by masked men as he attempted to become a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, according to the lawsuit that was filed in December in Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
Jimmy A. Bell, the lawyer representing Powell, said despite the allegations, fraternity members would only face up to a $500 fine and six months in jail. “This is the problem: there is no teeth in the law,” said Bell, adding that Powell will be testifying during a Maryland legislative hearing in Annapolis during the coming months about hazing. Bell also is representing Hayes.
Court papers say that Kappa officials approved a pledge class at Stevenson through Coppin State in order to establish a Kappa “colony,” which would be the first step toward establishing a chapter recognized by the fraternity on the Stevenson campus. Kappa Alpha Psi, founded in 1911, boasts a membership of about 100,000 members and include such luminaries such as Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and actor Cedric the Entertainer.
While pledges in most fraternities engage in various rituals and are tasked to prove their loyalty, Powell, a junior volleyball player at the time, said he was beaten so severely that, “I had to lay on my stomach or my side most of the time.”
Powell’s mother, Charlotte Powell, said she became immediately angry when she heard about what allegedly happened to her son. “They don’t care that parents are spending all of this money for education,” said Charlotte Powell, who along with her husband lives in Havre de Grace, Maryland. “He was a leader on campus…It was so hard to see him go through this experience.”