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Three suspects in BU hazing case appear in court

A fraternity pledge says he didn’t feel he was victimized

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / May 26, 2012
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What happened in the Alpha Epsilon Pi house in April was inhumane, prosecutors said Friday, an act that left five stripped-down Boston University students covered in honey, hot sauce, coffee grounds, and fish sauce, and peppered with red welts.

One of the students, however, described it as something different: simply a tradition.

“I didn’t feel victimized at all because it was a rite of passage and a choice that all five of us made together, and we knew that we could walk away from it at any time if we chose to do so,” said Tim Barranen, 19, a freshman, in a phone interview Friday, moments after three of nine defendants briefly appeared in Brighton District Court to answer to charges of failure to stop hazing.

Barranen said he would not tell investigators anything that would incriminate the nine defendants who allegedly meted out the hazing.

Arraignments for Jonathon Katz, 22, Alexander Nisenzon, 21, and Kyle Shevrin, 21, were postponed until June 27 during Friday’s brief hearing, but new details emerged in a police report contained in court records.

On April 9, Boston police investigating a noise complaint found Barranen and four other Boston University students, all 19 years old, in the basement of 24 Ashford St. in Allston, taped to one another at the wrists and wearing only underwear.

The students were covered in honey, hot sauce, coffee grounds, fish sauce, and mustard. They were shivering and appeared to be horrified, police said in the report. They also had red welts on their backs and some had portions of the backs of their heads shaved.

Katz, Nisenzon, and Shevrin belonged to the 30-member chapter of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, which drew most of its members from Boston University.

In the wake of the police investigation, national leaders of the fraternity shut down the Boston chapter. The fraternity had no official ties to BU, officials have said.

According to the police report, Katz and Nisenzon were found in a second-floor bedroom where they and three other defendants were “lying in a bed together, faking that they were sleeping.’’

Shevrin tried to run out the front door but was stopped by police.

All three men and their attorneys declined to comment after the proceeding.

The other six defendants will also probably be arraigned on June 27, according to the Suffolk district attorney’s office. Spencer Davidson, 21; Jesse Kay, 20; Cyrus Nazmiyal, 20; and Jonathon Toobi, 22; were all charged with hazing, failure to stop hazing, and assault and battery. Robert Rappa, 22, and Lawrence Rosenblum, 19, also face charges ranging from hazing to keeping a noisy and disorderly house.

A 10th defendant, Michael Sanieoff, 21, was arraigned earlier this month on a charge of keeping a noisy and disorderly house. After pleading not guilty, he was released on personal recognizance and ordered to return to court on June 21 for a pretrial hearing.

All of the defendants are BU students.

Failure to report hazing carries a fine of up to $1,000, while hazing carries a maximum one-year jail term and/or a $3,000 fine. Assault and battery carries a maximum 2½-year jail term or a fine of up to $1,000, according to authorities with the district attorney’s office.

Hazing is defined under state law as “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private land, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.”

Massachusetts law forbids, among other things, whipping, beating, branding, forced consumption of food, and deprivation of rest and sleep.

It was passed in 1985, months after a hazing left a freshman dead at American International College in Springfield.

The hazing and keeping-a-disorderly-house charges are misdemeanors.

Charges were dropped last month against four other defendants, including Andrew Zuckerman, who said Friday in a phone interview that the incident has been “very misinterpreted.”

“There was no force. If the pledges didn’t like what happened to them, they had the opportunity to quit at any point,” Zuckerman said. “Other fraternities are doing much worse, things that pale in comparison to what we were accused of doing.”

Barranen disputed the police account that he and the other pledges had terrified looks on their faces when officers shone flashlights on them in the basement.

According to the police report, one of the pledges had tears streaming down his face and shook his head from right to left and back when asked if they were fine.

“It was more like we were confused,” Barranen said. “Listen, all the guys in the house are good friends; they treat me great now. I won’t say anything that would incriminate any of them. It’s unfortunate all this happened, because we all devoted so much time to something that no longer exists. Now we are trying to just move beyond it.”

Neighbors said Friday that the fraternity house is often teeming with students and music often blares from the windows late at night, but that is commonplace on a street where so many students live.

Tim Compernolle, who lives across the street and who graduated from Boston University last week, said he worked as a student event planner his senior year, a paid position in which he helped students fill out paperwork and organize on- and off-campus social activities.

“Coming from that perspective, I think it’s terrible what went on over there,’’ he said, looking directly across Ashford Street.

“It shouldn’t be going on. I’m just wondering what was the mindset of these pledges? What were they expecting, pledging a fraternity that was not only unrecognized by the university, but didn’t follow the rules?”

John R. Ellement contributed to this report. Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com

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