A University of Hartford student has been arrested, accused of a "hazing-related assault” with a golf club at an off-campus unsanctioned fraternity house on Albany Avenue in West Hartford.
George Sinclair, 21, of New London, has been charged with third-degree assault and turned himself in on a warrant on last week.
Sinclair was acting as a pledge master for Phi Delta Theta, an underground fraternity, when the hazing incidents occurred, according to the arrest warrant application.
Police said the fraternity has not been affiliated with the school for several years because of university sanctions.
"They make a lot of noise and they have parties and drink beer, and go all over the place, and do whatever they feel like," said a neighbor of the fraternity, who wished to remain anonymous. "This has been a good neighborhood. We never had any problems until these guys came in."
Sean Wagner, associate executive vice president of the national Phi Delta Theta, said the fraternity has not had a chapter at the University of Hartford since 2011, when the local chapter was suspended for "failing chapter operations."
"It is our understand that the chapter ceased to exist on that campus since then," Wagner said. "If not, they are legally misrepresenting themselves. They have no rights or privileges as members, and no new undergraduate members who have joined are considered recognized members."
Wagner said Sinclair is not a recognized member of the fraternity.
The University of Hartford freshman who went to police on Nov. 24, 2013 to report violent and painful hazing had been going on for several months and might have led to his lung collapse.
In the fall of 2013, pledges were ordered to do push-ups and "plank" with their elbows on sharp edges of bottle caps to inflict pain, he told police.
Lit cigarettes were put out on the pledges' tongues and they had to swallow them, the student also told police.
The student who filed the complaint told authorities about one incident on Sept. 19, when the pledges were taken to a golf course, blindfolded and instructed to strip, jump into an extremely cold pond and tread water for around 20 minutes.
The pledges were then brought back to the Albany Avenue address in wet clothes and ordered to sleep outside on the deck with just one blanket for them all to share, the student told police.
The person who made the complaint explained to police that he passed out because of lack of sleep and dehydration and was transported by ambulance to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital in September.
He also said stress led to a bald spot on the back of his head, but that the most painful incident happened on the night of Oct. 30 or early morning of Oct. 31.
Sinclair showed up drunk in the basement of Albany Avenue house and started poking pledges in the chest with a golf club and asking them questions, the student told police. When the one pledge answered incorrectly, Sinclair reportedly swung the club at the pledge, hitting the wall behind him, but the shaft struck the pledge's chest.
The student said he fell to the ground after being hit and fraternity brothers spit on him, cursed at him and made racial statements.
About two weeks after the golf club incident, the student sought medical help because of sudden chest pain and trouble breathing. Doctors could not tell police conclusively that the trauma led to the medical condition, but that it could have, according to court documents.
When police spoke with Sinclair, he admitted to coming home drunk early on the morning of Oct. 31 and using a golf club to push people to the exit of the basement, police said.
He also admitted to pushing one pledge with the golf club and poking him with the butt end, but said he did not intend to harm anyone and apologized to the group.
Police spoke with another pledge who admitted to taking part in "team building" activities, but denied that Sinclair struck anyone "excessively" with the club as well as the part about the pledge falling, as well as the racial comments.
Another pledge said he was not there for some of the incidents. Others refused to cooperate with the investigation, according to police.
When police spoke with fraternity brothers, one said it was a "social club" rather than a fraternity and they do not have a formal initiation process.
Others said the freshmen were asked to clean up, but denied witnessing or taking part in hazing and said the pledges were not physically abused.
The vice president of the fraternity told police he would send a letter to students and parents, warning about the risks of joining "underground fraternities," including this one.
"It just sounds horrendous, and I don't understand how kids can go through with it to the end and be OK with calling these people their friends," said University of Hartford student Stephen Potter.
Sinclair is due in court on March 19, according to the arrest warrant application.