Nine FSU fraternity members charged in death of Andrew Coffey

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By: WCTV Eyewitness News
Updated - January 18, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The affidavit outlining hazing charges against nine Florida State University fraternity members says the environment created by the Pi Kappa Phi chapter's leaders and members "led to an expectation of abusive drinking."

Coffey, a pledge at FSU's Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, died of alcohol poisoning on November 3 after he was found unresponsive following an off-campus party. He was 20 years old.

The state medical examiner said that Coffey had a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy.

Tuesday, arrest warrants were issued for the charge of college hazing causing injury or death, a third-degree felony.

The nine fraternity members facing charges are:

  • Luke Kluttz, 22
  • Clayton Muehlstein, 22
  • Brett Birmingham, 20
  • Conner Ravelo, 21
  • Christopher Hamlin, 20
  • Anthony Petagine, 21
  • Anthony Oppenheimer, 21
  • John Ray, 21
  • Kyle Bauer, 21
  • Court documents say that Conner Ravelo was Coffey's fraternity 'big brother' and the other eight suspects were members of the chapter's executive council and responsible for organizing the party, which reportedly featured cases of beer, at least sixteen bottles of liquor, and performances by two female strippers.

    The affidavit says Coffey was drinking heavily as part of the fraternity's 'big-little' party, part of the initiation process for acceptance into the fraternity.

    During the party, the document says, big brothers supply their little brothers with the 'family drink' and pledges are expected to finish the bottle.

    Ravelo, who was under 21, admitted using someone else's ID to buy alcohol and provide it to Coffey and others, according to the court records.

    The affidavit says Ravelo provided two bottles of Smirnoff Ice and a 750 mL bottle of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon.

    He told investigators Coffey consumed the contents of the bottles until passing out.

    Investigators say, despite the excessive drinking, "there was nothing to indicate any supervision of the drinking... no monitoring of the amount of alcohol anyone was consuming" and "no effort to stop them from consuming alcohol."

    The probable cause affidavit states that after Coffey passed out from excessive drinking, Ravelo and two other fraternity members carried him to a couch in the living room of the house where the party was being held and Ravelo went home. Several hours later, Coffey was found to be deceased.

    Florida State University President John Thrasher announced the indefinite suspension of all fraternities and sororities at the school in the wake of Coffey's death. The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity revoked the charter for its chapter at FSU less than a week later.

    “These arrest warrants strengthen our resolve to address the issue of responsible student behavior at Florida State University for the benefit, safety and well-being of our students and the community. Florida State does not tolerate hazing, and we are committed to continuing to combat all unsafe and dangerous practices and behaviors on our campus," Thrasher said in a statement Wednesday.

    Thrasher pointed out that the indefinite suspension of Greek life remains in place at FSU.

    "We hope all members and alumni of our Greek organizations are paying attention," he concluded. The complete statement from President Thrasher is available below.

    In mid-December, a Leon County Grand Jury found evidence to support criminal charges in Coffey's death. The Grand Jury heard two days of testimony from close to 50 people, including four brothers and 38 pledges of Pi Kappa Phi.

    The presentment written following the Grand Jury states that no one called for medical attention after Coffey passed out, and text messages and calls were made to other fraternity members before 911 was called.

    The document also reveals that members and pledges did not fully cooperate with law enforcement, and there were "elements of conspiracy and obstructionism surrounding the case."

    In a request for comment about the warrants, the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity said, "Pi Kappa Phi closed the Florida State chapter in early November 2017. We continue to await the conclusion of the criminal proceedings to determine what additional discipline is appropriate for former student members of the chapter."

    As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, all nine of the suspects had turned themselves in and bonded out of jail.

    The nine Pi Kappa Phi brothers could face up to five years if convicted. The state attorney intends to prosecute the case himself.

    "I do not believe this was a murder. I do not believe this was a manslaughter,” Campbell said. “I think that this is a felony hazing.”

    “Consent is not a defense,” Campbell added. “That's kind of the insidious nature of hazing where people will voluntarily put themselves in danger even to the point of death.”

    Defense attorney Fred Conrad represents one of the fraternity brothers, Brett Birmingham. He said, "He's devastated. First and foremost he's extremely upset about the loss of his friend and he feels horrible about his friend dying.”

    “When you combine that with a twenty-year-old kid who was student government, a very bright young man, who's now put into the felony criminal system, it turns his world completely upside down," Conrad continued.

    Birmingham is described in arrest papers as helping to plan the party and collecting money to pay the strippers.

    "Just because you invited someone to a party and they wound up hurting themselves, that doesn't necessarily make you guilty of hazing," Conrad said. “I think it's going to be an uphill battle for the prosecutor in this case."

    Arrest papers say the fraternity - and its executive council - created "an environment and expectation of drinking in excess."

    "There is a culture that has led to his demise,” State Attorney Jack Campbell said. “I think that there's certainly a culture the legislature through their hazing statutes has tried to change."

    Defense attorney Ethan Way represents Clayton Muehlstein, who arrest papers say was at the party, “assigned a little” and drank alcohol with the underage pledge.

    “We contest, in the strongest possible terms, that Clayton had anything to do with Andrew Coffey’s tragic passing. Clayton would never engage in any conduct that would harm another person,” Way said. “We look forward to vigorously challenging the criminal case in a Court of Law. Not the court of public opinion.”

    We reached out to the family of Andrew Coffey. They did not wish to comment at this time.

    A defense attorney for Conner Ravelo released the following statement from the Ravelo family, "This situation is incredibly difficult for all of the individuals involved and their families, and obviously none more so than the Coffey family. For that reason we will not be commenting on any of the issues around this case. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Coffey family."

    We also reached out to a defense attorney representing one of the other fraternity brothers, but his client did not wish to comment.

    To read the complete probable cause affidavit, click HERE. (Disclaimer: WCTV has chosen to redact the name of one of the individuals who has not been charged in the investigation)


    The complete statement from FSU President John Thrasher:


    "These arrest warrants strengthen our resolve to address the issue of responsible student behavior at Florida State University for the benefit, safety and well-being of our students and the community. Florida State does not tolerate hazing, and we are committed to continuing to combat all unsafe and dangerous practices and behaviors on our campus.

    "The indefinite suspension of Greek Life activities remains in place, and we continue to mourn Andrew Coffey’s loss. As we direct our efforts toward fostering a safer, healthier environment for all of our students, we also acknowledge the Coffey family’s terrible loss. We understand and share the concerns the Coffeys expressed to the grand jury in December about student indifference, reckless conduct and irresponsibility.

    "These arrests are the first step in seeking justice for Andrew and his loved ones, and they will inform us on where we need to place our focus as we proceed. Vice President Amy Hecht continues to work with our student groups in an effort to prevent further tragedy.

    "The grand juries have been very helpful to our work, and we appreciate the State Attorney’s efforts. Clearly, he is taking this matter just as seriously as we are. We hope all members and alumni of our Greek organizations are paying attention."


    Andrew Coffey, 20, died of alcohol poisoning on November 3, 2017. / Photo provided by family


     
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