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UT student regrets friends are suspended

The victim of a stun gun attack says the incident has been blown out of proportion. They're "my really good friends.''

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


TAMPA -- A University of Tampa fraternity pledge who was blindfolded and shot with a stun gun in a hazing ritual says he regrets that four of the people involved have been suspended from the fraternity.

Brad Sobo, 18, said Tuesday the incident has been "blown out of proportion" and called the four fraternity brothers "my really good friends."

His parents, Melissa and Terry Sobo of Cape Coral, said they were angered that the university had not called them. They learned of the incident from a reporter.

"I find that amazing and appalling," said Melissa Sobo, "and you can believe me, that I will be there at that campus first thing tomorrow morning."

Later, after he had spoken with his son, Terry Sobo told the Times that the university's version of events differed greatly from his son's. His son had told him the incident was not serious, Mr. Sobo said.

"I guess we'll have to investigate," he said.

Tuesday afternoon, as parents and prospective students toured the university, television news crews dotted the campus.

University officials confirmed a report in Tuesday's St. Petersburg Times that four members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity took two freshman pledges behind UT's boathouse last Thursday at 3:30 a.m., blindfolded them and told them to swim across the Hillsborough River or be shot with a stun gun.

Both pledges were shot with the stun gun, said UT spokesman Grant Donaldson, before they jumped in the river, cutting their feet on rocks.

Brad Sobo told the Times that the incident was not a hazing, although he would not describe exactly what had happened.

"I'm not supposed to discuss this," he said. He would say that he did not take seriously the order to swim the river, that alcohol was not involved, and that the stun gun felt "like nothing."

"'I am still a pledge," he said.

University officials said the two pledges had declined to complain to police about the incident. Nor would the university report the incident to police, said spokesman Donaldson, or the parents of the students involved, unless they were going to be disciplined.

Donaldson said the parents of the other pledge were satisfied with how the university was handling the situation. Those parents could not be reached by the Times.

The incident remains under investigation by UT's judicial board and the national fraternity council, Donaldson said. "In our minds, the process is working as it's supposed to," he said.

That response troubled some UT students, including Jordan King, 20, a UT sophomore. His fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, was disbanded last semester after members attended an unsanctioned party with alcohol.

King said that the punishment meted out to his fraternity had been harsh, and felt UT officials had mishandled that situation and the latest incident.

"It should have been immediately reported to police, because if someone gets shot with a stun gun, that's assault," said King, a criminology major and pre-law student.

If the students have declined to press charges, there is little police can do, said Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes.

"If they don't complain, you don't have much of a case," Hughes said.

- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com. Researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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