OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A lawyer hired by the board of directors of a University of Oklahoma fraternity linked to a racist video said on Friday he has no current plans to sue the school but wants to ensure the safety of fraternity members after some received death threats.
“The last thing I want to do is go to court,” Stephen Jones, a high-profile attorney who represented convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, told a news conference.
Jones said while he is not currently planning to sue the university for punishments it has imposed against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, he is not ruling out legal action.
The university shut down the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house and expelled the two members who it said were the leaders in the video. Jones said he understands the two men withdrew from the university before being expelled.
Jones said he is seeking to make sure the due process rights of the students are protected as well as the fraternity’s property rights.
The 10-second video was shot on a bus chartered for a date night by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and posted online on Sunday. Students are seen and heard chanting in unison, using offensive language referring to black people and vowing never to admit them to the fraternity.
Jones said fraternity members have been physically threatened and received death threats following the incident, but did not offer specifics.
“Above all else, the board is concerned about their physical safety,” Jones said of the fraternity members, referring to the local chapter’s board of directors.
The two students have been identified as Levi Pettit, 20, and Parker Rice, 19. Pettit’s parents and Rice issued apologies on Tuesday.
Some alumni have told local media they believe university President David Boren may have overstepped his authority in imposing punishment.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national body said it supported the expulsion and is investigating whether other chapters have used the same song. It said it does not intend to pursue legal action against the university.
A chapter also is being investigated by the University of Washington, where black students say members hurled slurs at them during a protest, the Seattle Times reported.
In an incident involving another fraternity, the University of Maryland is investigating a January 2014 email containing racist and sexist language allegedly written by a member of the Kappa Sigma house.
Additional reporting by John Clarke in Washington; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Doina Chiacu