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Two MU freshmen sue fraternity, students for assault

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Two freshmen at the University of Missouri sued a fraternity and its members for an alleged assault by two of the fraternity's members.

The two plaintiffs, Sean Freihaut and Benjamin Poss, both of St. Louis, claim Sigma Phi Epsilon and its chapter at MU did little to stop its members from breaking rules regarding alcohol, drugs and hazing. The lawsuit blames the Sept. 22 assault outside the fraternity house on its national headquarters, which the suit claims did not properly punish the chapter earlier.

ABC 17 News uncovered emails and documents used in MU's investigation of Sigma Phi Epsilon. At one point in spring 2017, the national organization "seriously entertained" shutting its local chapter down after repeated conduct violations. National leaders instead conducted a membership review, which led to more than half of the members being suspended.

The lawsuit details an alleged assault on the two freshmen by Nikolas Childress and Zachary Barabasz. Around 1:45 a.m., Childress and Barabasz rushed from the porch of the fraternity house and chased the two freshmen, who were walking nearby. The two eventually caught up to Freihaut and Poss near South Hall, where the new fraternity members "attacked, punched, kicked and/or struck" the victims, according to the lawsuit. One of the victims, the lawsuit claims, suffered a traumatic brain injury and "hardware used in the surgical reconstruction" of his face and jaw "is permanent."

A probable cause statement from the University of Missouri Police Department said a security camera at South Hall captured Barabasz hitting one of the victims.

Boone County prosecutors charged both men with third-degree assault, a felony, on Oct. 17. William Tackett, the attorney for both men in the criminal matter, declined to comment on their pending cases.

Sigma Phi Epsilon's MU chapter is at least the second fraternity facing a lawsuit in Boone County. Brandon Zingale, a former pledge at Kappa Alpha Order, sued the fraternity for failing to get proper medical care for him after he became intoxicated at the house. Members of the fraternity left Zingale in a room overnight after he had chugged vodka, and Zingale went to the hospital with a 0.41 blood alcohol content the next morning. That lawsuit claims Kappa Alpha Order broke state hazing laws, as well.

MU's fraternities and Greek Life system have come under scrutiny in the last several years. Consulting firm Dyad Strategies highlighted a lack of trust between Greek organizations and the school's Office of Greek Life. The report made several recommendations for change, including a ban on freshmen living in fraternity houses.



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