The alumni of a fraternity chapter at the University of Oklahoma shut down after members were caught engaging in a racist chant have severed communications with its national headquarters and hired a high-profile Oklahoma attorney to represent them.
Enid attorney Stephen Jones confirmed Friday he has been hired by alumni members who served on the board of the university's local Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter.
Jones said he does not represent two members of the fraternity who were expelled from the university after they were caught on video leading a racist chant that referenced lynching and said African-Americans would never be allowed as members.
National SAE spokesman Brandon Weghorst said Friday officials with the Oklahoma chapter have stopped communicating with them. Weghorst said a probe into other SAE chapters is proceeding.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Jones said the Board of Directors of the local SAE chapter retained him Thursday afternoon.
“We are not here because we are interested in a legal solution,” said Jones. “We seek to have some other resolution of this matter.”
Jones said he was not retained to initiate litigation against any person, party, or OU. No decision in that regard has been made at this time. And Jones stated he has not been retained to defend the individual, and actions depicted in the controversial video, which he described as "inexcusable."
Jones said the board's first concern is the safety of SAE members who are still students at OU. Several SAE members have gotten death threats or have been verbally assaulted. Jones said the board wants to make certain that the University is aware of these issues.
Second, Jones said the SAE board wants to be certain that due process rights and First Amendment rights of speech and association are protected.
Ultimately, Jones stated the local SAE chapter would like to work towards a resolution of this crisis. They would like to be part of the solution. Jones said the board hired him to engage in dialogue with the University and President Boren to further their cooperation, and to find a resolution that will serve the interests of everyone concerned.
Jones said SAE wants to work to earn the trust of the OU community.
Another issue at stake is the SAE house and the property. Jones said the board has also hire real-estate attorneys to help work through those issues with the university.
We asked Jones if the board said why they didn't step-in four years ago when the racist chant came to OU. He said those questions will be raised as he meets with the board.
After the press conference Friday, Brandon E. Weghorst, the Associate Executive Director of Communications with SAE released the following statement:
"Earlier today, attorney Stephen Jones held a brief press conference to announce that he has been retained by the University of Oklahoma SAE board of alumni, which is the group that oversees the Oklahoma Kappa chapter. The national organization is not involved in retaining Mr. Jones and, as of now, we have no further information about his intentions.
"Our priority now remains squarely focused on making sure we continue to proactively address this issue in a way that reflects our zero-tolerance for any kind of discrimination and upholds the values of our Fraternity. We teach our members to serve as role models in their communities and to live up to our creed, “The True Gentleman.”
"As such, when members fail to do so – as they did at the University of Oklahoma – we do not hesitate to take corrective action, starting with closing the chapter and initiating a process to take action against any members who were involved. As we continue to review this matter – as Mr. Jones stated – we are committed to following the due diligence and protocols that we have set forth in our Fraternity Laws, as they are designed to enable us to make deliberate, thoughtful decisions that reflect our commitment to our standards and to our members."