IOWA CITY — Tucked inside the Kinnick Stadium neighborhood that transforms into a beer-soaked bacchanal during Hawkeye home football games sit three adjoining houses that combined last fall to host “the largest tailgate in Iowa City.”
The space — often teeming with black-and-gold-clad coeds chugging liquor, spraying beer and even falling unconscious and requiring medical care — was blocked in the back by fences, portable toilets and tarps “to prevent people from looking in,” according to Iowa City police documents and videos provided to the University of Iowa, which were obtained by The Gazette.
A landlord hired security and the 302 Melrose Court entrance was staffed — as pre-purchased tickets were required for the parties, which, according to the documents, featured a DJ and free alcohol.
Chipping in on what police described as $90,000 needed to pull of parties at the prime Hawkeye tailgate venue, according to records, were Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Pi and Phi Delta Theta — three of about a dozen fraternities the UI investigated.
Across the street, three different fraternities — also swept up in the UI investigation — collaborated to rent space at 223 Melrose Court “for an unknown amount of money,” according to police. “They provide free alcohol, which is handed out by the members,” according to the documents.
Three more fraternities paid $30,000 to rent 310 Melrose Court a few doors down, serving “unlimited alcohol” — with one neighbor reporting seeing “a large pallet of beer and 10 bottles of vodka” and an officer’s body camera at one point recording more than 500 people leaving.
“Police have responded to this location for multiple issues — multiple medical calls, loud party disturbances, reports from neighboring properties of beer cans thrown,” according to the documents.
The fall’s fraternity-involved game-day gigs occurred in the midst of a moratorium on alcohol-related events imposed by the university’s Greek system on its own members following the drug-and-alcohol death of a UI freshman fraternity brother at an out-of-town formal in April 2017.
In hopes of returning some party freedoms to compliant Greek houses, UI and Greek system leaders more than a year ago debuted a pilot program allowing limited alcohol at approved events — so long as organizations complied with strict rules on monitoring and consumption.
Some houses applied to host the events, but many didn’t. And about a dozen, according to a UI investigation substantiated by police narratives obtained by The Gazette, completely rebuffed the ban and actively sought to circumvent it.
Now the behavior has brought them sanctions, including being deregistered — kicked off campus — in some cases — as well as probations and a deferred suspension in others.
“We put a lot of resources into this right away, as soon as we realized what was happening,” Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said, rejecting criticism his office overstepped its bounds by collaborating with the UI Dean of Students Office on its inquiry into the behavior.
“We did what we needed to do,” he said. “If there is compromising behavior going on, we need to address it. And we did, and we got favorable results. Any accusations that we shouldn’t have are completely misguided.”
Moving the party
Around the time authorities reeled in the fraternity fracas on Melrose, they began hearing about Greek-sponsored private parties in downtown Iowa City. Officers suspected the groups simply had shifted festivities from the football scene to the bar scene.
“The three main locations that host private events are Summit, Airliner, and Union,” Iowa City officer Travis Graves wrote in a synopsis of his findings.
“After speaking with bar managers at these three locations,” according to Graves, “numerous fraternities call in every week to reserve their upstairs.”
Documents obtained by The Gazette show Anita Cory, UI assistant director of student organization misconduct, emailed police in September for help tracking down details of alleged fraternity misconduct.
On Sept. 18, Cory asked Officer Graves for help confirming a report that a fraternity on probation was gathering Fridays at the Summit bar. She listed ideas for confirming it including simply calling and asking. But she doubted that would work.
“The fraternities are actively finding ways around how to have tailgates and certain bars are helping them”
- Anita Cory, UI assistant director of student organization misconduct, in an email to police
“The president of the fraternity in question works at Summit and/or may be a manager there — further solidifying that Summit will probably not be honest with me,” she wrote.
Cory in the email said she considered calling to “pretend to have lost something that is no longer at the bar and ask for the name of the group so I can check with them about my lost item.”
“Not sure I could pull this off,” Cory wrote. “I’m not that great at lying and keeping a straight face.”
Graves replied that her tip was “probably very correct,” as officers “suspect numerous Greek organizations rent out ‘various’ upstairs areas at Summit, Airliner, and Union.”
“We will keep an eye for the private parties and try to dig a little deeper about what is going on at the venues,” Graves wrote, inviting Cory or her staff to tag along on its Friday night bar checks.
The next day, Graves emailed Cory to report a party the night before at Phi Kappa Psi — where he found evidence of underage drinking.
Graves provided the UI with a summary of several fraternity-related incidents in the bars or the Greek houses in September and October, including a report from a woman who said, “She saw a male put drugs into her friend’s drink,” and another involving an assault that stemmed from a “Nazi salute.”
“The male tried to get a picture of it but three guys and a girl came out and confronted him and told him to delete the picture,” according to Graves’ report. “The male was then punched in the face by an unknown female.”
During an Oct. 6 check on a private party at the Airliner hosted by Lambda Chi Alpha, Graves reported reminding a fraternity member that Greek chapters aren’t allowed “to have organized events like this one.” The student, according to Graves, responded, “Kids have died, the university didn’t to (expletive), I’m not really worried.”
In November, Cory emailed police about a call from a manager at Brothers Bar & Grill voicing his concern over what was happening “after the UI’s investigation into tailgates.”
“The fraternities are actively finding ways around how to have tailgates and certain bars are helping them,” Cory wrote in the email, summarizing the Brothers’ complaint. “His beer vendors have told him they were supplying to off-premise location/sources and now it has shifted away from the big tailgates … to Summit and Union doing them instead.”
Following the UI investigation into policy and moratorium violations, administrators in December deregistered the Delta Chi and Sigma Nu fraternity chapters, along with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon colony, citing “multiple violations of university policy” and the alcohol moratorium.
The university also deregistered Kappa Sigma’s local Beta-Rho chapter for hazing violations, and placed on probation or deferred suspension seven other fraternities for alcohol-related concerns.
It failed to find a “preponderance of evidence” for two fraternities.
Representatives with the fraternities didn’t respond to inquiries from The Gazette. The university has warned them that speaking could bring more sanctions.
The groups had until Jan. 11 to appeal the findings, and six did — including the three deregistered for tailgating allegations.
At least one Iowa City resident and former UI student thinks those appeals have legs, noting concerns with tactics UI administrators used to investigate fraternities.
“In my opinion, the most troubling aspect is that Iowa City Police Department resources were used to target and specifically collect data on fraternity organizations at the direction of the university,” Nick Summy, 36, of Iowa City, told The Gazette.
“Performing social media searches on citizens who either are not accused of a crime or accused of (underage drinking) goes over the line, especially when this information isn’t used for criminal purposes but instead university administrative use.”
He questioned the transparency of providing police body-camera videos for a UI inquiry.
“I am sure none of the intoxicated fraternity members that interacted with the police could fathom that their verbal statements to the police would be collected by the university and used against them,” he said, noting the officers at no time told the subjects they were collecting data for the university.
Summy emailed Iowa City Council members, telling them as much.
“The bottom line is that the city police department should not be investigating private citizens for an administrator at the University of Iowa,” Summy wrote.
Parties have been raging along Melrose during Hawkeye games for years, he said, arguing that “these are social fraternities, not organized crime syndicates.”
Chief Matherly said officers often collaborate with the university, and it’s not always in pursuit of criminal charges.
“Particularly when it comes to the well-being and safety of students,” Matherly said. “We all have a vested interest in making sure these kids are going home to their parents at the end of the year in one piece.”
Dangerous student behavior puts at risk not only those responsible but the community at large, and failure to respond could result in second-guessing should tragedy occur, he said.
“To be clear, if the university comes and says, ‘Hey, we are getting student code violations,’ or something like that, no we’re not looking at that, that’s not our job,” Matherly said. “But high-risk behavior that could be a problem, we always collaborate with different groups to resolve that. And that’s what we did in this case.”
By partnering, Matherly said, the UI and Iowa City police accomplished their aim.
“Our goal was to get it to stop, and we achieved that,” he said, noting police didn’t pursue excessive criminal charges or residential code or zoning violations. “These weren’t violent felonies. This was binge drinking, and it was getting out of control, and our goal was to put a stop to it.
“And it worked.”
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