Former Cadet Files Hazing Suit

‘John Doe’ Claims He Was ‘Waterboarded’

A former Virginia Military Institute cadet has filed a federal lawsuit against school personnel and students, alleging he endured “tortuous and degrading” acts of hazing in the form of sexual and physical assault during his Rat year.

The plaintiff, “John Doe,” filed the complaint in U.S. Western District Court in Roanoke Jan. 28, naming the VMI board of visitors, Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay III, Commandant of Cadets William J. Wanovich and five male VMI upperclassmen as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that John Doe, along with another first-year cadet, were physically attacked, falsely imprisoned, water boarded and made to wrestle unclothed during an incident in 2018.

The complaint says VMI mishandled John Doe’s initial report of the incident due to negligence toward the school’s male students.

“VMI responds aggressively to allegations of hazing involving female cadets but shows deliberate indifference to allegations of hazing of male cadets, be cause of long-held and outdated gender stereotypes about young men, in violation of the Title IX and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” the suit states.

According to the suit, on Jan. 30, 2018, John Doe and a fellow first-year male cadet, “John Doe 2,” were made to participate in a hazing “Rat Mission” by the cadet defendants, initiated by the defendant students stealing John Doe 2’s mattress in the barracks. The two were instructed to retrieve the mattress in a barracks room where they were allegedly physically assaulted by senior cadets. The lawsuit alleges John Doe and John Doe 2 were tackled, bound by duct tape and forced under the bed of a cadet defendant, where they were made to listen to an Islamic call to prayer, simulating conditions in Afghanistan, as an intimidation tactic.

The two were then allegedly laid down by their assailants with towels over their faces and “waterboarded.”

“The two defendant cadets waterboarded [John Doe] —pouring two cups of water over his mouth as he gasped for air,” the suit alleges.

The plaintiff and John Doe 2 were told to “get in their cave” in the leg hole of a desk after the incident of waterboarding and were allegedly doused with air freshener. The two were instructed to engage in a “naked wrestling match” for their freedom to leave, in which John Doe was allegedly made to take off his pants and John Doe 2 was made to take off his shirt. After the wrestling match, the two were allegedly made to stand back to back and were bound together by duct tape before being told they could leave.

The lawsuit alleges the assistant Title IX coordinator at VMI failed to process John Doe’s complaint of the assault in violation of Title IX requirements. A VMI police officer also allegedly ordered a defendant cadet to delete images off of his cell phone that provided evidence of the assault to presumably protect the school.

“If two female cadets had been ordered to strip naked and wrestle for their freedom in the presence of numerous male assailants, VMI would have immediately contacted law enforcement, would have processed the complaint in accordance with procedures that met Title IX requirements, would have conducted a proper Title IX investigation, and would have taken immediate steps to protect the victims during the pendency of the investigation and resolution of the complaint,” the suit asserts.

On March 14, 2018, John Doe was allegedly made to testify at a defendant cadet’s disciplinary hearing about the incident against his will and without the advice of counsel.

“As a result of this egregious incident, to include VMI’s unlawful and inadequate response, John Doe was subjected to a hostile environment … forcing him to withdraw from VMI and seek an education at another institution,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit cites VMI for gender discrimination and student-on-student sexual harassment in violation of Title IX policy. VMI, along with defendants Peay and Wanovich in their individual and professional capacities, are named in the lawsuit in three counts of violating the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment related to John Doe’s rights. The five defendant cadets are named for violating the Virginia Code for hazing, as well as on counts of assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.

For relief, John Doe is asking the five cadet assailants in his assault for $350,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The suit also demands VMI personnel create an “educational environment” that encourages complaints from all sexes as they relate to proper Title IX training.

“The initial thing is, we don’t think we violate anybody’s rights,” VMI spokesperson Stewart MacInnis told the News-Gazette last Wednesday. “We will vigorously defend the institute from these allegations.

“We have robust policies in place to address hazing and sexual misconduct,” he continued. “We train cadets each semester how to lookout for and report these things. Not only do we teach them to look out for themselves, but to look out for other cadets. When VMI becomes aware of these things, we take immediate action.”

According to MacInnis, VMI is represented by the office of the attorney general. The complaint is being reviewed by its counsel to prepare an answer, he said.

The News-Gazette

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