TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County grand jury found sufficient evidence to support criminal charges in the death of Florida State University fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey.
But the panel said the investigation is not complete and more evidence has yet to be obtained and reviewed. No charges have yet been filed.
“We leave the decision as to specific charging up to the State Attorney or a future grand jury,” jurors wrote in the 16-page presentment, which also included a letter from Coffey’s parents.
Jurors found members of FSU’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity set up the off-campus party where Coffey died as part of "Big Brother Night," where new pledges were introduced to "family traditions," including heavy drinking of liquor. More than 80 people were at the party, the presentment said, including two hired strippers.
State Attorney Jack Campbell said the inquiry into Coffey's death is ongoing. In January, another grand jury will be convened.
"This is not ending the criminal investigation,” he said after two days of behind-closed-door testimony. “There is still outstanding forensic evidence that’s being reviewed and we will base all charges on the evidence we review.”
During his autopsy, state Medical Examiner Lisa Flannagan found the healthy, 6-feet tall, 200-pound Coffey's blood alcohol level was .447. But at the time of his death, it was likely higher — 0.558, or nearly seven times the legal limit to drive.
The grand jury was highly critical of fraternity members and the events surrounding Coffey's death.
“A young life was senselessly extinguished,” the grand jurors wrote. “Aside from their behavior under the influence of alcohol, in the sobering aftermath and somber days that followed, they have repeatedly made the choice not to speak out, but rather remain loyal to a culture of secrecy that cannot be allowed to continue.
“Actions have consequences, and it is time that they learn this. Their behavior during the events in question demonstrates a recklessness and lack of integrity that reflect badly on themselves, their fraternity and their university.”
Coffey, a 20-year-old from Pompano Beach, was found unresponsive after a party at a home on Buena Vista Drive on Nov. 3. Only fraternity members and pledges were allowed to attend.
“Pledges were actively encouraged to drink to extreme excess,” grand jurors wrote.
Three weeks before Coffey's death, FSU President John Thrasher told grand jurors he met with the presidents of all campus fraternities and warned he would not tolerate "any further reckless and dangerous behavior," the presentment said, "but his warnings about substance abuse and student safety fell on deaf ears."
Coffey drank a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon to the point of unconsciousness, the presentment said. Fraternity members moved his limp body to a futon and he was last seen alive as he snored loudly and people played pool around him.
No one called for medical attention and his Big Brother, who was tasked with caring for him, left the house, according to court records.
Investigators interviewed 22 pledges and 16 fraternity members as part of the case. During the investigation, 19 pledges and 22 brothers refused to answer questions, according to the grand jury document. Of the fraternity’s leadership, only two spoke with investigators. Seven refused.
Grand jurors said the fraternity members' secrecy showed a high level of “conspiracy” and “obstructionism.”
“Their lack of accountability was illustrated by the lack of substance in their testimony, their demeanor while testifying and the overall glib attitude of Andrew Coffey’s so-called brothers toward this very serious matter,” jurors wrote.
When Coffey was found unresponsive, according to court records, fellow pledges called five fraternity members before calling 911 resulting in an 11-minute delay before medical help arrived.
“While this time would not have saved Coffey, it reveals much about the culture within this fraternity,” jurors said.
Pi Kappa Phi’s national office in Charlotte shuttered the fraternity.
Coffey’s death sparked huge changes on FSU’s campus. Thrasher suspended all Greek activity at FSU and issued a campus-wide alcohol ban at student organization events saying there was a “serious problem” and has pushed for a change in the culture. The on-campus sanctions will remain in place when students return Jan. 8. There is no indication of when they will be lifted.
Thrasher, in a statement Tuesday night, condemned fraternity members' lack of cooperation with the investigation. He said the university is committed to making changes.
"Let me make this very clear: As I’ve said before, Florida State University does not tolerate hazing," he said. "We continue to mourn Andrew’s loss, and we grieve with his family and friends. Now, our grief is compounded by frustration with the lack of information and cooperation by many of the individuals who may have been present during the final hours of Andrew’s life. Nonetheless, we commend the work of law enforcement and await the findings of the criminal investigation."
Grand jurors also made recommendations to FSU to help change the culture among student organizations.
Among the recommendations were: refresher training on hazing and alcohol consumption before fraternity and sorority activities return to campus; a committee of law enforcement, students, administrators to increase awareness of alcohol and binge-drinking; providing university police and administrators access to any residence used by campus organizations and community scorecards detailing conduct, philanthropy, average grade point average and sanctions.
Grand jurors said the culture surrounding Coffey’s death occurred in an environment "of hazing." Although he was not forced to drink, they wrote, the level of alcohol abuse “embraced within the FSU chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity is alarming."
Coffey’s mother, Sandy Coffey, wrote a letter lauding the work of investigators who quickly brought the case before a grand jury.
She called her son’s death senseless. She said the creed of the fraternity he was trying to join — focusing on responsibility as citizens — was not upheld.
“Even as we are heartbroken, we are also troubled,” she wrote on behalf of the family. “Troubled our son died alone in a room full of people. Troubled that no one stood up and said ‘stop’, ‘no’, ‘enough.’ Troubled that a group of young people saw someone in crisis and didn’t act. And troubled that this continues to happen again and again.”