A University of Mississippi student is facing aggravated assault charges for allegedly spraying cleaning liquid down the throat of a frat pledge during a hazing ritual, it was revealed this week.
The pledge suffered serious injuries to his esophagus, can barely eat and may need surgery because of the Oct. 11, 2020, incident at the Pi Kappa Alpha house, his attorney said.
“He was blindfolded and poisoned,” the attorney, Adam Peavy, told the Associated Press. “That’s what happened.”
University police on Nov. 17 charged James Bowes Higgins with aggravated assault.
A witness told Ole Miss cops that the pledges had their eyes covered with their neckties and were made to sit in a hallway, according to a police report.
Active frat members “yelled, screamed, threw liquids and things” on the pledges, the report states.
Higgins then allegedly asked the 20-year-old victim if he wanted water — but instead sprayed cleaner or bleach into his mouth.
The student swallowed “two or three gulps” and immediately started to throw up. He went to the hospital the next day, when vomiting continued, his lawyer said.
“During this time, one of the pledges threw up from inhaling some of the substances in his mouth, and another one had to go to the hospital because the bleach got into his eyes,” the police report states.
Details of the horrifying hazing were first reported by the Jackson Jambalaya website on Monday.
The victim, who is still enrolled at Ole Miss and is still a member of the frat, has been getting “progressively worse,” his attorney said.
He’s lost more than 50 pounds because he can’t eat regularly, and, when he does, is only able to chow down on macaroni and cheese or protein shakes.
“He hasn’t had a normal meal since it happened,” Peavy said.
Doctors now advise that they may have to remove a part of his esophagus and relocate his stomach. The student is now at higher risk for cancer and other medical problems, Peavy said.
Ole Miss officials said they suspended a student in the case, but didn’t specifically name Higgins.
“I am outraged by this incident, and we extend our heartfelt support and deepest sympathy to the victim,” said Charlotte Fant Pegues, Ole Miss’ interim vice chancellor for student affairs.
The frat’s international office said the accused assailant was expelled from Pi Kappa Alpha.
“The Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity does not tolerate any activities that do not treat individuals with dignity and respect,” spokesperson Aranda Gehringer said.
The chapter has been sanctioned, including restrictions on social activities, the school and frat said.
A Lafayette County grand jury is expected to decide whether to indict Higgins when it next meets in June.
Peavy said the family intends to sue the frat, and possibly others.