Lawsuit filed in 2009 hazing at The Citadel - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Lawsuit filed in 2009 hazing at The Citadel

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The photo above shows Tyler Phillips, center, carrying a pole on Recognition Day in March 2011. (Provided) The photo above shows Tyler Phillips, center, carrying a pole on Recognition Day in March 2011. (Provided)
The photo above was taken of Tyler by his mother in April. Donna Phillips says the rash on the right side of his face was caused by itching powder someone placed in his linens and bedding. (Provided) The photo above was taken of Tyler by his mother in April. Donna Phillips says the rash on the right side of his face was caused by itching powder someone placed in his linens and bedding. (Provided)

By Brian Troutman
btroutman@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- It's a busy week at The Citadel. If the announcement about the lawsuit against the school in the ReVille case was not enough, the filing of a lawsuit in a substantiated 2009 hazing on the campus has the school's legal team scrambling.

"We're busy," said Citadel attorney Dawes Cooke. "There are certain common themes that run through these cases. It's not uncommon once one person has a press conference that says they are going to file a suit that other people would do that."

The new lawsuit was filed on Thursday, December 8 by 21-year-old James "Tyler" Phillips. It alleges while Phillips was a freshman at The Citadel he was beaten, threatened and ridiculed. Phillips claims he was assaulted, both physically and mentally by classmates and upperclassmen.

Tyler Phillips is now suing The Citadel for breach of contract and assault and battery. He and his family say it is not about the money, but about raising awareness. Tyler's mother, Donna Phillips said she feels like The Citadel did not respond appropriately.

Now, in addition to the lawsuit, members of the Phillips family say they will be meeting with representatives of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Charleston Police Department on Friday.

Tyler Phillips was at The Citadel on a Navy ROTC scholarship. Tyler contacted the Navy about his experience. Donna Phillips said the Navy was informed Tyler was provoked to fight at least, doused in lighter fluid at worst.

Why? "He wouldn't follow an order to haze another cadet," she said."...They even set fire to his room and to his books. Tyler went there with a 3.75 GPA and left with a 1.3. He was sent to the hospital several times."

The Navy investigated Tyler's case and found he was indeed hazed. He was told he could keep his scholarship if he transferred to another school.  

"I ordered an investigation in the claims made by Mr. Phillips and his parents," wrote U.S. Navy Admiral David F. Steindl in a letter to Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss. "The investigation substantiated that Midshipman (MIDN) Phillips was a victim of hazing by Citadel cadets during the fall semester of 2009."

Findings of the Navy's investigation revealed that upon learning of the hazing, Navy ROTC leadership at The Citadel took immediate action in notifying staff and securing Phillip's safety.

"Importantly, one of the students who hazed MIDN Phillips was a Midshipman in the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps unit at The Citadel," Admiral Steindl wrote. "However, hazing activities did not occur during NROTC events nor did any NROTC staff members endorse hazing."

Officials at The Citadel say they also investigated the claims  as soon as they were notified in December of 2009. They say six students were disciplined for hazing, but they were unable to prove Tyler was assaulted.   

"The investigation found that the cadet... was verbally harassed by his classmates," said Citadel media relations coordinator Charlene Gunnells. "There was one instance where someone pulled a badge off his uniform. Six students were found to have engaged in this behavior and all six were punished."

Three of the students were issued 60 demerits, given 120 tours and a battalion transfer. The other three were issued 40 demerits and given 80 tours.

As far as The Citadel's demerit system is concerned, Gunnells said a penalty of 40-60 demerits is very strict. Tours are one-hour marches to be performed in uniform and with a rifle. They must be done during a cadet's free time.

"If you have a tour, you can't go out on weekends when cadets have leave or at night when cadets have leave," Gunnells said.

Donna Phillips says she is aware of the the punishment the cadets received, and believes it wasn't harsh enough for the damage caused to her son's life.

"As parents, we are furious," she said. "We asked for the police to be involved in this, and The Citadel has ignored it."

Tyler Phillips is seeing a therapist and has gone from the top of his class to reevaluating his life goals.

In a letter of recommendation written for Tyler prior to his leaving the school, former Citadel professor John S. Carter wrote, "I believe his academic failures were directly related to being the victim of mistreatment and harassment by a group of immature and misguided cadets at our school. In my opinion, Tyler was singled-out because he chose to be a member of the cheerleading team... "

When ABC News 4 contacted Carter about his knowledge of the incident, he said it was in his best interest not to speak. He said he worked in a position at The Citadel in which he entered an agreement not to speak about certain types of issues.

Officials at The Citadel and the school's attorney say the situation was handled appropriately. Gunnells says the school followed the Clery Act, a law that requires schools that receive government funding to report incidents to law enforcement. She said the incident was reported as an incident of hazing to The Citadel Public Safety Department. Gunnells said the school has a strict policy on hazing that informs cadets that if they want to press criminal charges, they must file those charges with either the campus police department or the Charleston Police Department.

"We were in communication with law enforcement about this case in particular," Gunnells said. "Our public safety department was aware because due to the Clery Act, we are required to report."

Citadel attorney Dawes Cook says compliance with the Clery Act is definitely going to be a topic in the Phillips case.

"I wish I could comment on specifics," he said. "But, it is subject to the current investigation (ReVille) by SLED, the attorney general and The Citadel's own investigation."

So far in 2011 there have been four reports of hazing on The Citadel's campus.

Check back with ABC News 4 for an exclusive interview with Tyler Phillips. The interview will air at 11 p.m. If you live outside of the market, you can watch our live stream - click here.

The interview will also be placed online after it airs at 11 p.m.

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