KANSAS CITY — A man serving a five-year sentence for a fatal traffic accident in Kansas City has filed a lawsuit against a Louisiana college fraternity, claiming hazing led him to take "unwise actions."
Curtis Mertensmeyer, 21, of the Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, Kan., filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month in the U.S. District Court of Western Missouri against Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and its chapter at Tulane University in New Orleans. Mertensmeyer was a student and fraternity pledge there last year.
Mertensmeyer pleaded guilty in November to involuntary manslaughter in the May 11 hit-and-run death of pedestrian Daniel Riemann, 25, of Lansing, Kan. Mertensmeyer admitted he had been drinking and was speeding. He received a five-year sentence in February, but the judge will consider probation after he serves 120 days.
The lawsuit does not refer to that accident. But it claims Mertensmeyer was hazed at Tulane two months before the incident and that he has developed post-traumatic stress disorder that caused him to "take unwise actions because of a breakdown in his decision-making process in stressful situations."
Sigma Alpha Mu, whose national chapter is based in Indianapolis, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
Tulane spokesman Michael Strecker said the university has a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing and that the fraternity's Tulane chapter is facing a student conduct hearing for allegedly violating that policy, although he could not say if the allegations involved Mertensmeyer's case.
The lawsuit claims Mertensmeyer was left for hours in a dog crate with his hands and feet tied while fraternity members threw things at him, poured unknown liquids into the crate and abused him verbally.
When he was released from the cage, he went outside the chapter house with his hands and feet still tied, fell on the concrete and hurt himself, the lawsuit states. Fraternity members continued to threaten him, the suit says, adding that he was told that if he reported the hazing "the entire Greek system would be out to 'get him' on campus."
The result, the complaint maintains, was permanent emotional and mental damage.
"Because of the post traumatic stress syndrome, when faced with stressful situations, (he) fails to make decisions in an appropriate and thought-out manner," the lawsuit said.
The suit seeks undisclosed damages.
Jane Stafford, Mertensmeyer's mother and the attorney who filed his case in Missouri, declined to discuss the hazing incident.
Riemann's mother, Kelly Riemann, said Mertensmeyer's defense attorneys didn't mention PTSD or hazing during his criminal case.
"I don't think this has anything to do with what he did to my son," she said.
Forty-four states, including Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana, have outlawed hazing at universities, but it remains a problem, said Douglas Fierberg, a lawyer who has represented several hazing victims and their families across the country.
Strecker said the local chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu was placed on temporary suspension shortly after university officials learned of hazing allegations against the fraternity Jan. 15. While suspended, the fraternity can't hold events at the chapter house or off campus and any meetings must be supervised by a representative of the national organization.