GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida suspended one of its fraternities on Friday after allegations that its members hurled drunken insults and spat at a group of disabled military veterans at a Panama City Beach resort.
The school said on Friday that it is charging the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity with obscene behavior, public intoxication, theft, causing physical or other harm, and damage to property.
The suspension came after the fraternity had already suspended operations itself and expelled three of its members after finding they had behaved inappropriately.
"I am personally offended and disappointed by the behavior that has been described to me," Dave Kratzer, the school's student affairs vice president and retired U.S. Army major general, said in a statement.
The situation 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 fraternity had a social function.
Linda Cope, founder of the warrior group, says the frat members were urinating on flags and verbally abusive.
"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.
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.
After the incident, Cope sent a letter to University of Florida President Ken Fuchs and described students spitting on veterans, throwing beer bottles over a balcony and ripping flags off their cars.
Local police did respond, but no criminal charges were filed.
The fraternity said it expelled three of its members Friday, and that it had hired an independent investigator.
"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," said Laurence Bolotin, the fraternity's executive director.
The fraternity was 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.
The school said Zeta Beta Tau faces a longer suspension if found guilty of the current charges because it was already on probation. The school would not say what the longest possible suspension could be.
"A suspension does have a time limit. It can range from one semester to years depending on the circumstances," said Janine Sikes, a university spokeswoman.
Cope said the fraternity has so far been helpful in its response, and that she believes fraternity leaders 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.