After overdose death, Stanford facing new lawsuit over 6-year suspension of fraternity

Alumni of Theta Delta Chi say the penalty is unprecedented and that the university failed to allow the fraternity due process during its investigation.

Alumni at Theta Delta Chi fraternity are suing Stanford University for disbanding its campus chapter and saying they were not providing a fair hearing after the drug overdose death of former student Eitan Weiner, calling the decision “draconian” and unnecessary.

Weiner, a member of the fraternity, died after ingesting counterfeit Percocet pills laced with fentanyl and falling in a bathroom at the Theta Delta Chi house in January of 2020. The family filed its own lawsuit against Stanford and others, including the national fraternity, this January, claiming negligence after Weiner allegedly overdosed two days prior. A Stanford spokesperson told University Business that “we have seen the petition, we disagree with it, and we intend to vigorously contest the claims in it.” The national TDX group has denied any responsibility.

However, the group called SaveStanfordTDX which is representing 1,500 alumni, said there was no precedent for the university to impose a six-year suspension on the chapter and claimed it was not afforded due process, highlighting that no one from the fraternity was charged with criminal activity. The drugs provided to Weiner were acquired with help from his dealer and former high school colleague Matthew Ming Carpenter, who had no affiliation with Stanford. He was recently given two years’ probation, 12 days in jail and 100 hours of community service. The Theta Delta Chi lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara Superior Court on Thursday.

“In its 130-year history, Stanford University has never enacted such a draconian measure against one of its student-led organizations,” said attorney Mark Hathaway of the Los Angeles-based firm Hathaway Parker. “They have fundamentally violated the rights of Theta Delta Chi members and alumni, and in doing so, have not only suspended the fraternity from campus without cause, but they have also arbitrarily and unjustly tarnished the reputation of the organization and its individual members.”

Stanford did release a statement after the family filed suit against the university. It said it was “saddened” by the action and offered “great sympathy” to Weiner’s family members—including his mother and father, who are employed by the university.

Without offering specifics, Stanford did discuss how it handled Weiner’s death and provided details on the decision to suspend Theta Delta Chi. “Criticisms of the actions of our professional staff, in this case, are unfounded; their actions were timely and reasonable based on the information they had at the time,” Stanford officials wrote. “It is not accurate that Stanford failed to take appropriate actions following Eitan’s death.”

Weiner’s overdose and death

According to statements in the lawsuit, Weiner had been a user of several drugs, including Xanax, Ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana and oxycontin, and he sometimes mixed them to get high. In January, Weiner received pills that unknowingly contained fentanyl delivered via mail with assistance from Carpenter to the Theta Delta Chi chapter house.

Two days before his death, his girlfriend flagged suitemates that he was potentially overdosing. The Resident Assistant phoned Resident Dean John Giammalva, who instructed them to call 911. When EMTs arrived, Weiner was pale and slurring his speech but coherent and refused to be taken to the emergency room at Stanford Medical Center. He said he had not taken any drugs that night. His mother, worried about her son’s health, went to the house to check on him. He looked “terrible,” but he said he had only done weed. Marijuana and related paraphernalia were present.

More from UB: Fentanyl: Why the potent drug poses a big threat to students, colleges

Several wellness checks were done by the Resident Assistant and the chapter president over the next day or so and they urged him to watch what he was taking, but they indicated a defiant Weiner said he was OK. At 11 p.m. on Jan. 16, however, Weiner went into a small bathroom, “rolled up a $5 bill … and apparently snorted the contents of one of the blue pills.” It wasn’t until a janitor arrived in the morning that he was found on the floor.

Weiner’s parents arrived at the house several days later to gather his belongings and were surprised to smell marijuana and find pot, bongs and water pipes still present. Marijuana use is not uncommon on college campuses—Stanford itself reported that more than 40% of students use it, although the lawsuit indicated that university officials said that use in the TDX house was excessive. About 12% of students at Stanford use illicit drugs, according to data from its Student Affairs department. No drugs were found in the dresser drawers used by Weiner, but the scene helped prompt the family to file its suit.

The crux of the investigation

According to the court filing, Stanford officials conducted their own investigation that started in early March of 2020 and ran through September, with its attorney Erin Dolly interviewing 20 witnesses. Theta Delta Chi said it received no opportunity to respond to the findings, offer a defense or cross-examine witnesses. On Sept. 30, Dolly issued her report. It was escalated to Stanford Organization Conduct Board, and its panel determined that the fraternity should be placed on probation for one year. However, Dean of Students Mona Hicks increased that to six years, according to the suit. Theta Delta Chi said it tried to appeal but was denied.

“The Office of Student Affairs imposed a completely unprecedented six-year suspension of the chapter’s recognition, a historically heavy-handed punishment,” the group said.

University officials have indicated that the punishment is not a lifetime ban, though it likely would hinge on new information emerging from the county district attorney’s office. “Whether and when the fraternity can ask to return to Stanford, and under what conditions, has not yet been decided, pending receipt of any new information that may be revealed during the ongoing criminal proceedings against the individual who provided the controlled substance to Eitan,” they said.

SaveStanfordTDX noted two previous cases where it said university officials were overzealous and wound up facing lawsuits – a 2019 case in which it failed to seize the house of the Sigma Chi fraternity and had to pay legal fees and last year in the Title IX case involving multiple women’s sports that had to be reinstated. Whether this one will fall in Stanford’s favor or TDX is to be determined.

“Stanford administrators have taken an increasingly interventionist role in the lives of students and have used this tragic death in the Stanford community as an excuse to try to destroy another traditional Stanford organization whom they ideologically oppose,” Hathaway said. “They banked on groups like Theta Delta Chi simply accepting such unjust treatment. They were wrong.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

Most Popular