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Family calls for tougher charges against fraternity members in connection with a 2019 student death at a party

Andrew Cuomo

Prosecutors in the state of Washington have charged 15 current and former members of the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity at Washington State University (WSU) in connection with the death of a WSU student in 2019, according to authorities.

Sam Martinez, 19, a pledge at the fraternity, died in November 2019 from alcohol poisoning at a fraternity initiation event, according to the Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

The charge, furnishing liquor to minors, is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, according to the office.

But Martinez’s family said the charges are not enough to bring justice for him, calling the possible maximum sentences “insulting compared to the devastating consequences of their actions.”

“While the charges may lead to some level of accountability, this is not justice. It does not bring us closure,” the family said in a statement provided to CNN.

Martinez and another pledge were ordered to finish a half-gallon of rum between them, and Martinez’s blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.372 after his death, almost five times the legal limit, the family statement said.

The family is suing the university, ATO and some of the men charged on Wednesday. The suit was filed in July 2020, and the case is still pending in courts.

“We are deeply disappointed that no one will face a charge of hazing in this case because the Pullman Police Department allowed the statute of limitations for that charge to expire,” the family statement said.

The results of the police investigation were turned over to the prosecutor’s office in February 2021, according to Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, but misdemeanor hazing charges have a statute of limitations of one year, which lapsed in November 2020.

The Pullman Police Department said they had been waiting last fall for a forensic analysis of Martinez’s cell phone, which they believed could have evidence that would lead to prosecution on manslaughter charges.

“We made the decision to wait until we found out if data could be obtained from the cell phone before concluding the investigation,” Gary Jenkins, Pullman Police Department Chief of Police said.

“That, unfortunately, took us beyond the one-year statute of limitations for a misdemeanor prosecution of hazing … As the Martinez family has already stated, they do not feel a misdemeanor charge serves justice in this case. We did not want to settle for a misdemeanor charge at the cost of the possibility of a felony manslaughter,” he said.

A spokesperson for WSU told CNN the university had no comment on the charges.

The ATO chapter at WSU is in “Loss of Recognition” status until May 2026, which means it is not authorized to operate at the school. The national ATO fraternity did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but the WSU chapter is not listed on a map of chapters on its website.

The individuals, Wesley Oswald, 22; Griffin Fish, 21; Maxwell Rovegno, 21; Jaron Selset, 23; Finn Anderson, 21; Joshua Entriken, 20; Luke Hawksford, 22; Jack Kuske, 20; Jacob Lewis, 21; Jeremy McAteer, 22; Cole Peterson, 22; Tyler Kim, 20; Garrett Smith, 21; Cameron Thomas, 20, and Nolan Valcik, 20; are all being charged with furnishing liquor to minors, according to court documents.

The defendants will make their first court appearances in Whitman County District Court in about three weeks, depending on the court’s schedule, according to prosecutors.

It is unclear if the men have obtained attorneys.

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