GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A University of Florida fraternity expelled three of its members Friday after allegations that they hurled insults and spat at a group of disabled military veterans at a Panama City resort.
Zeta Beta Tau Executive Director Laurence Bolotin said that the group made the expulsions after finding that its members had behaved inappropriately.
“I am deeply saddened that the actions of our members ruined this special event and failed to show the respect our military and their families so deserve,” Bolotin said.
The incident occurred while the fraternity and veterans with the Warrior Beach Retreat were at the Laketown Wharf Resort last weekend. The veterans were there for an annual retreat meant to honor their service, and the fraternityhad a social function.
Linda Cope, founder of the warrior group, says the frat members were drunk and insulted the veterans and stole their flags.
“They were urinating off of balconies, vomiting off of balconies. They could see the men and women below were there with the retreat. They had on hats and shirts with logos,” Cope said.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs called the behavior unacceptable and promised a full investigation.
In a letter sent to Cope, Fuchs said the school is making every effort to learn what happened and take appropriate action.
The fraternity is already on conduct probation for a hazing incident in the fall semester. It has suspended operations and is cooperating with the investigation, and has hired its own independent investigator to find out what happened.
“Being on probation means the organization faces increased consequences if they are found to have violated the probation requirements,” university spokeswoman Janine Sikes told the Gainesville Sun newspaper.
Members of Zeta Beta Tau from the University of Florida and Emory University in Georgia were attending their spring formals at the resort. Emory officials have said they are investigating but so far there’s no evidence to implicate their students.
About 60 veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were also attending a retreat that has been held twice a year for the past six years at the resort. Cope started the event in honor of her son Joshua, who lost both legs in Baghdad in 2006 when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee.
One letter to Fuchs described students spitting on veterans, throwing beer bottles over a balcony and ripping flags off their cars.
Cope said hotel security got the situation under control and the fraternity members were evicted the next morning. The fraternity sent a letter of apology to Cope.
Cope said the fraternity has been helpful in its response, and believes they are doing all they can to help make things right.
“They are a fraternity of fine young men. But they had too much to drink, and they took it out on young men and women who sacrificed life and limb for their freedom,” Cope said.
Zeta Beta Tau’s Florida chapter has 128 active members. The organization was founded in New York City in 1898 as a fraternity for Jewish students, who at the time weren’t allowed in fraternities.
Bolotin says they will hold anyone else accountable if their investigation turns up more evidence of wrongdoing.
“We have reached out to start a dialogue with the Warrior Beach Retreat and to offer whatever assistance we can to rectify this awful situation,” he said.
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