UTC student in court on hazing charges

UTC student in court on hazing charges

November 21st, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News

Several UTC students declined to comment Friday after watching their friend, a fellow sorority member accused of committing violent hazing acts last spring, enter no plea in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Seirra Smith, who is charged with two counts of simple assault, also declined to comment, walking hastily out of Judge Don Poole's courtroom after waiting for about two hours for her case to be called.

In court, Ms. Smith told Judge Poole only that she could not afford a lawyer to represent her.

Originally from Memphis, the 23-year-old student is scheduled to appear again in court Jan. 26, most likely with a public defender by her side.

The charges against her stem from an April 10 police report made by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student Jasmine Johnson and her mother, Karen Drake, accusing five members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority -- including Ms. Smith -- of assaulting Ms. Johnson.

No charges have been filed against the other students who allegedly were involved in three separate incidents off campus in which Ms. Johnson said the sorority members punched her in the head, chest and stomach. She also was sprayed in the face with vinegar and had chocolate syrup and milk poured on her face, according to Chattanooga Police Department reports.

Ms. Johnson went to Parkridge East Hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion due to the incidents, the report states.

An earlier UTC incident of hazing drew attention in September when student Jamaal Strickland claimed in a lawsuit that he was subjected to "beating, striking or paddling" in fall 2008 as a Kamma Alpha Psi pledge at the school.

Although no criminal charges have come about relating to that alleged incident, Mr. Strickland is seeking $1 million in Hamilton County Circuit Court, alleging the fraternity was negligent for failing to supervise its members and for allowing them to participate in hazing activities.

Most sororities and fraternities have policies against hazing activities. UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said the school put the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity on inactive status last fall when its own investigation found "enough evidence to support (Mr. Strickland's) allegations of hazing."

UTC stripped the Delta Sigma Theta sorority of its ability to meet and conduct business on campus last spring when the allegations against Ms. Smith surfaced, he said.

The school's investigation into the incident is ongoing, Mr. Cantrell said.