Frathouse to big house: UVA students jailed for 'prank'

UVA second-years (l to r) Chase Winslow, Jordan Davis, Gabriel Russ-Tierney, and Joseph Uzetegui were arrested in September for grabbing a fraternity brother, putting him in a car, and leaving him in Crozet.
PHOTO BY LINDSAY BARNES

Four members of the University of Virginia chapter of Chi Phi fraternity have been sentenced to four days in jail in what even the prosecutor doesn't deny may have been just a prank, a long standing tradition of grabbing a fraternity brother, driving him out of town, and kicking him out of the car.

Having been arrested in September for felony counts of abduction, Jordan Davis, Gabriel Russ-Tierney, Joseph Uzetegui, and Chase Winslow, reached a plea deal with prosecutors and each pled guilty to one count of disorderly conduct on a recent Thursday afternoon.

"We thought we needed to make sure there was a conviction and a punishment," says Charlottesville Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Claude Worrell, "that would make University students think twice before grabbing someone and taking them against their will."

The sight of four University of Virginia second-years–- each wearing the blue blazer, necktie, and khaki pants that constitute the traditional uniform of a UVA fraternity brother–- laughing and smiling, seemed more typical of a football Saturday on Grounds. Instead, they were flanked by a man wearing the grey-and-black jumpsuit of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, and a uniformed deputy sheriff, sitting in Charlottesville General District Court on March 26.

"This has gone on for decades," says the students' attorney, Bud Treakle, whose clients let him do the talking. "You grab a fraternity brother, drive him somewhere, dump him, and drive off."

So, after having been unsuccessful in their first attempt several days earlier, the four pledges grabbed their would-be brother–- second-year student and Chi Phi rush chair Ian Dominguez–- from the fraternity house one day in April 2008.

All four were pledging Chi Phi and put the elder fraternity member in the backseat of a car, and drove him away from Grounds and out of town along Route 240, and kicked him out of the car outside Crozet Pizza. They supposedly called it a "roll."

Everything had gone according to plan–- until two groups of bystanders saw what had happened and thought it anything but a harmless prank. Some citizens were walking out of nearby Three Notch'd Grill and approached Dominguez.

"One group of people went up to the alleged victim," says Treakle, "who told them he had been abducted."

Treakle tells the Hook that, in an effort to protect his pledges from a criminal investigation, Dominguez told responding police he had been abducted by unknown captors from a city sidewalk instead of hauled away from the fraternity house by four frat brothers-in-training. Once Albemarle and then Charlottesville police began investigating, it may have gotten too late to tell another story.

Perhaps unbeknownst to Dominguez, another group driving by in a car had followed the four pledges back to Grounds and called in their license plate number to Albemarle County Police.

"It is my understanding that two or three days later, the alleged victim told police that it was his four pledges, and that the whole thing was a prank," says Treakle.

Dominguez did not return the Hook's calls for comment to verify Treakle's claim.

The Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney's office vigorously pursued the case, obtained a felony charge, and on September 4, 2008, just after the start of fall semester, had the four arrested for felony abduction–- a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

"My personal feeling," says Treakle, "is that it could have been resolved a long time ago, and they could have done some community service, but the Commonwealth insists on sending a message."

Treakle says that his clients decided to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, rather than plead not guilty to felony abduction and risk a conviction.

Prosecutor Worrell says Treakle is correct in ascertaining that his office wishes to send a message with this prosecution.

"Whether or not it was intended as a prank," says Worrell, "they took somebody against his will, and it was a dangerous undertaking and a criminal act. University students thinking of doing this again need to know that."

Worrell warns the next frat brothers that try to pull off a "roll" in the future will face a different fate.

"This is the last time we approach this kind of case this way," says Worrell. "Next time, if the facts and circumstances warrant it, they will be prosecuted for felonies."

The four students will serve their time starting Friday, April 17.

–updated April 6 at 11:27am. The original post stated that the four students had been indicted on the felony charge– which entails a grand jury– rather than charged by the Charlottesville magistrate. The error has been corrected.

38 comments

Okay.......I'm a cop and really glad I didn't get this call, but don't blame the report writer. If the guy says he was abducted they have to write it up. This sure didn't make any news in the police world, this is the first I've heard of this case. However it has occurred in previous years and people have been given rides home before. I don't think it was ever stated they had been abducted though.
The biggest mistake these boys made was not being atheletes...That would have been an after or before hours court deal. Not with the consent of the officer.

I would like to see and FOIA inquiry as to how much money we spent prosecuting this.

Claude Worrell = budget line item to nix. Drop Worrell off in Crozet. Or at least drop him off the payroll to fend for himself in the private sector.

What's offensive to me and may have been to the Enforcer, Herr Worrell, is the lie told by the Rush Chair - creating a ruse of abduction by locals? What was he thinking? Could have resulted in some innocent's receipt of a serious beat down by our city's finest.

They should be jailed for looking like Waholes.

If we could relocate the entire campus into an active volcano, things would get much better...and a little interesting! I get sick of these yuppy pricks that live here half the year coming in and complaining about "true" locals. We live here all God ***ned year and what do you do?? Go home every summer to suck the life out of your dumb*** parents.

You can still respect the institution, and dislike the flip-flop-wearing douchebags who go there.

This "frat bro!" nonsense is cringe-worthy.

These kids should have chosen to go to trial. It would have been laughed out of court by a city jury after less than 10 minutes of deliberation. Worrell would have been doing the kids a favor by forcing a felony trial.

James Huron- perhaps frats should start donating to city council races, it seems to work for bankrupt builders.

Charlottesville at it's finest again. Oh yes, law enforcement and the the court system are totally skewed against the public. Don't you have better ways to spend your time and the public's money? Perhaps you could try to prosecute rape cases at UVa...Oh wait, isn't that still just an honor code violation? Darn those frat pranks!

Sorry about the typo above. It should read....

"The sad part about this is the fact that the city police department still has a few honest cops on board, had if it had not been for this Worrell could have gotten a conviction based on the perjury of the other cops."

OK, let me try this again and see if I can meet the standards this time. I not only saw it first hand, I have the transcript of the trial laying on my desk in front of me right now. I can prove anything I say here in The Hook topics. I don't fabricate tales as I go along. In open court, while still on record, the judge said he had never seen testimony from cops so "diametrically opposed" to one another. Those were the judge's exact words.

I think it is related to this topic because it shows the continuing trend of criminal cases that are being taken before the court by the commonwealth, cases that never should be. Why didn't the assistant commonwealth attorney know the case I mentioned was going to blow up in his face? Had he not interviewed his cop witnesses and realized that half of them weren't going to lie under oath and help him obtain a conviction? Was he hoping the judge would overlook the testimony of the cops who were there to speak the truth? Why would an assistant commonwealth's attorney even take a criminal case to court when he has have two groups of cops who are telling a totally different story?

And of course it's a matter of public record in the Charlottesville Circuit Court that one of the cops the judge spoke of when using the words "diametrically opposed" was just this past week sued for telling even more lies in a criminal investigation. Two other cops will testify under oath that the cop spoke these lies to them. The two cops at the time of course didn't know they were lies. They discovered about 6 months later that these were lies, and that these lies had in fact now jammed them up against the wall. We will see in the July 2009 civil lawsuit trial that the two cops are not willing to take the blame after having themselves been deceived and lied to by another cop.

In other words, I don't see how Claude Worrell was ever able to get these UVA students in court after the victim lied to the police. And I will never understand why the UVA students decided to accept a plea agreement. I never would have.

Dear SOTLR,

The "unrelated" reference was in reference to another comment. Certainly police conduct is related to the above post.

I don't mean to imply you're making it up. All I'm saying is that commenters must always point to the source of their information. Thank you for being more specific and thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Lindsay Barnes

Another example of U.V.A. students thinking they are above local laws and another example of how U.V.A. students don't feel they need to tell the police the truth unless they themselves need the help of the local police. Thankfully we live in a city where the local cops are not only friendly and concerened with what goes on here but have a stake here as well. Thanks to all the local cops/prosecutors.

Derrick

Derrick, in a recent survey it seems 46.90% of cops think they and their fellow officers are ALSO above the law. Of all people, if a cop is caught drunk driving, they should be charged and prosecuted.

See this link.....

http://forums.officer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=115308

It should also be noted that 9.66% and 11.72% say that a supervisor should make the decision to charge a cop for drunk driving or not.

The real story here is that the victim of the prank filed a false police report. He should have been dealt with accordingly but the underlying issue behind it is that he did not have the confidence in the government to handle the situation on its face. He was proven right as the Commonwealth once again wasted an immense amount of taxpayer money chasing someone who was not a menace to society and merely needed to be shown the error of his ways. The commenwealth has a year to bring forth charges and perhaps a little community service by the entire fraternity coupled with an apology would have gone a long way in making the prosecuter decide it wasn't nessasary to waste the taxpayers money when there would be no further benefit to the taxpayers (which is who they are SUPPOSED to be looking out for ANYWAY.)

The hook needs to look into how many cases are prosecuted that should be a no brainer "probation before judgment" (google it)

The Commonwealth is just trying to grow themselves by creating work.

Alum is right.

"They pranked him by driving him to Crozet. He pranked them by having them arrested and sent to jail. Someone knows how to win a prank war."

That is all.

Worrell cut a deal with the wrong person in the McGowan case as well, letting the "brains" behind that crime, Gentry, off with life in prison, THEN took the death penalty off the table for Pritchett, the other scum-bag, thus guaranteeing a trial as Pritchett has nothing to lose?! I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why neither of those two will get needle-in-the-arm justice. He's got a lot to learn about prosecuting if he's more aggresive with frat boys playing a prank that two cold blooded killers.

Another example of where justice is not only blind, but also brain dead (or at least developmentally slow). The entire affair was stupid, from the less than adequate investigative work by the police to the district attorney’s office, leaving no confidence in the legal system. It is these types of situations that lead the ââ?¬Å?common man” to an opinion of less than trust worthy when dealing with the police and the justice system. Why do you think the alleged victim is not returning phone calls or talking to the police/ADA? Because he knows they are probably going to stick him too! But hey, do not blame Attorney Worrell completely, he was not the original ADA who gave the police the okay to go arrest the guys (btw, I hear that that attorney is no longer with the ADA), he was the guy stuck prosecuting the ridiculous case. Maybe he was volunteered for this case like it was done in the three stooges’ movies; he was the guy left standing still when the other two stepped back. And yes, this situation was a waste of the local taxpayers’ money!

I have been researching this case for sometime now (since first reading about it in September 2008?) and you know, even some of the so called witnesses were not exactly ââ?¬Å?clear of thought or sight”. Also, each time I shared this story with a policeman I would hear something similar to ââ?¬Å?what kind of police work is this” and if I asked an attorney about the case they would invariably shoot back ââ?¬Å?where is the jurisprudence in this case?”

Lindsay what has become of Ian Dominguez? Honor code violations? Dismissal from his fraternity or his position? A Code Red?

Dear Jay,

Excellent question. So far as I can tell, Ian Dominguez has yet to face any disciplinary action from either his University or his fraternity brothers. I do know that he is still a brother at Chi Phi, and that Mssrs. Davis, Russ-Tierney, Uzetegui, and Winslow say that they are all on good terms with him.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Lindsay Barnes

Now I feel safe living in Charlottesville no hanky panky tolerated in our town

You would think the Commonwealth Attorney's Office would have bigger fish to fry. If not, just lay some assistant commonwealth attorneys off until some real crimes take place and they are needed.

the rush chair should plan to have his a$$ kicked for the remainder of his time in that frat. call another frat brother and have them come pick you up. if this was real prank, the guy would of been left in his underwear

The Commonwealth's Attorney should be impeached for wasting the taxpayers' dollars and for even pursuing a felony indictment for this. And for being a stone cold self-important a**hole. I mean, what a putrid, festering truckload of CRAP. And what a wasteful misappropriation of public monies and resources to prosecute...NOTHING.

Fraternity prank with no harm to anybody and the kids are given a choice: plead guilty and spend time in jail or go to trial and risk 10 years? If you want to charge them with something, make it a misdemeanor and let them do 20 hours of community service. THAT would at least be productive.

Is it any wonder that America has BY FAR the highest per capita imprisonment rate in the world? Thanks, Claude Worrell, for making the streets safe for fraternity brothers because God knows THEY need protection from themselves. Yeah, because they're selling crack and stuff. No wait - if they were doing THAT they'd be treated as first-time offenders because they had no record!!! But pull a prank, go to jail.

I expect our public officials to have at least a little bit of common sense. Clearly, I expect too much.

Does the name "Mike Wilfong" ring a bell?

Yikes wrote "What’s offensive to me and may have been to the Enforcer, Herr Worrell, is the lie told by the Rush Chair - creating a ruse of abduction by locals? What was he thinking? Could have resulted in some innocent’s receipt of a serious beat down by our city’s finest."

That's a very good point. THAT kid deserved to be prosecuted for giving false statements to the police. But it doesn't justify going after everybody else involved.

What's important to note is that he told an incredibly harmful lie to protect his frat brothers, thus creating a false investigation that took man-hours to look into. (And how did he describe his captors, i.e. their race or class?)

This kid actually thought he'd be better off lying to the police than exposing his fraternity. The real discussion should be about the unbelievable amount of peer pressure that goes on in the Greek system-- and it isn't the good kind of peer pressure either. I've seen it first-hand, and it's serious business.

"You would think the Commonwealth's Attorney had bigger fish to fry"--

Indeed you would.

How about looking into how local builders went into mass foreclosures and screwed their subcontractors?

Fraud, anybody?

You can go hating on the students all you want to, but without UVA Charlottesville would be Lovingston. To those who say that would be better, take 29 South for about 20 minutes and turn left. Welcome home!

SOTLR - you would think, but it seems the criminal law strategy for both county and city has become "threaten them with the maximum and scare the crap out of them, then get them to plea down to a lower charge and make them do a few weekends in jail." I know several people who either have or have family members who have been arrested for a variety of relatively minor offenses - shoplifting, petty theft, possession, etc - and in all cases it was a first offense. It wasn't long ago these would have resulted in a guilty plea to a misdemeanor and probation. Every one of these people - and remember, these were first offenses - did at least 5 days in jail. One did 15.

So it used to be "go to trial and take your chances or accept probation." Now it's go to trial and take your chances or accept a week in jail." This case is a PERFECT example of this.

So people get real and stop being such cry babies boys will be boys the rush chair should not have lied he messed up and this mess would not have happend. People did the right thing and called the police heaven forbid if they did not and it was a real thing going on. Animal house and fun collage stuff goes on people so relax and chill out this was just a small thing. PS the hook sucks What trash and very one sided newspaper...

isnt lying grounds for an honor violation, after all this is 'the university'?

Todd is right: lying is an honor violation. And this lie had serious consequences. Anyone can file honor charges, not just students, and all it would take is a letter to the honor committee with this article attached. I say: kick out of office Claude "Himmler had nothing on me" Worrell for wasting resources on prosecuting a prank. Kick out the boy who apparently lied, Ian Dominguez. Put the four frat boys in jail for a few days where they will meet new friends and learn new things. This is America: everybody should suffer equally.

They pranked him by driving him to Crozet. He pranked them by having them arrested and sent to jail. Someone knows how to win a prank war.

Dear readers,

If you've got a factual claim to air on this site, even if you saw it first-hand, send it to me at lindsay@readthehook.com and I'll look into it.

Also, non sequiturs will be quickly deleted.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Lindsay Barnes

U.V.A "Honor Code" You mean the serial number on dollar bills?

A year or so ago Claude Worrell put his name forward for a vacant judgeship in the county, thinking himself qualified. We dodged a bullet there. Isn't he aslo the one who screwed up the Beebe conviction, only finding out afterwards that pre "no-parole" rules applied, and that instead of serving several years for rape, Beebe would be out in 18 months?

Just a question. If nothing had been to the frat brothers, wouldn't you all be writing that UVA students get special treatment and do not have to pay any consequences? (I might argue that when this all happened, probably the city/county spent a lot more resources to investigate precisely because this involved UVA students. Then again, to play devil's advocate, maybe they did figure out that this was a stupid prank.)